Only a few short years ago, traceability technology which tracks produce from paddock to plate seemed to burst onto the foodtech scene in a flurry of blockchain-inspired mania and hysterics. There was a surge of hype around the possibilities of consumers knowing exactly where their food came from and the types of rich eating experiences that this would enable.
Now, whilst the sparkle of provenance remains novel and worth exploring, the new values in which traceability innovation may take root are rapidly emerging and will be here to stay, whether we are ready for them or not.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of joining Amanda Browning (Department of Agriculture, Fishing, and Forestry DAFF), Michael Dossor (Result Group) and Katie McRobert (MBA, GAICD) (Australian Farm Institute) for the ‘Traceability: What’s the plan and what it can do for you’ panel at Hort Connections 2023. We discussed the rapidly changing dynamics surrounding traceability, the impressive new technological innovations in this space, and the evolving local and global drivers that are forcing our hand as an industry.
It has been pleasing to see that technical limitations and prohibitive solution costs aren't bottlenecks that are constraining the rollout and adoption of traceability systems. Instead, the biggest drivers of disruption we’re seeing in the traceability space are the external demands for nationally (and globally) coordinated traceability solutions that meet the evolving needs of major importers, regulators, and consumers around the world.
As the pressure builds on global economic systems to take measurable action on key ESG objectives, we’re seeing both upstream and downstream expectations mount on agricultural systems to both accurately quantify and communicate their contributions to local, national and regional targets. AFI’s Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework is a useful tool in identifying and describing the bredth of these drivers.
A major example came last year when the EU made a commitment to deforestation-free supply chains, which singles out palm oil, cattle, soy, coffee, cocoa, timber and rubber as the first cabs off the rank to face restrictions if suppliers are unable to prove and authenticate their non-land clearing credentials.
Closer to home, Australia’s horticultural supply chains are currently on high alert for biosecurity threats such as the Queensland Fruit Fly. A range of phytosanitary measures are available to manage this risk, however the miscommunication and double handling between local regulatory systems and importers threatens our reputation for safe and high-quality fruit products.
As a panel we agreed that traceability data standards will play a critical role in unlocking and protecting the value of our national agriculture sector, such as those provided by GS1 Australia.
So, how is Australia responding?
In short: proactively. The Federal Government recently announced $11m in grants to turbo-charge traceability within Australian agrifood, including a $5m partnership with Food Agility to develop the AgTrace Australia initiative.
And, whilst the national infrastructure to deliver traceability is being developed, we are also seeing many successful pilot projects demonstrate the feasibility of Australian technology in tracking and tracing produce through the varied supply chains of Australian agribusiness.
Food Agility’s CherryPlus Traceability project with NSW DPI, Woolworths, FreshChain and GS1 Australia is one of these successful pilots which monitored Australian cherries and potatoes through from paddock to plate, enabling consumer assurance of safe produce as well as up-stream feedback of product quality. Similar outcomes were achieved in Result Group’s work with Perfection Fresh in the table grape industry.
Additionally, walking around the exhibition stands at HortConnections it was great to witness other traceability success stories like Escavox who have achieved commercial rollouts in major supply chains, and these stories reiterate the capabilities of existing technology to meet the needs of digitally connected value chains.
It’s going to be terrific to witness the evolution of Australia’s integrated digital traceability system over the coming years and the opportunities that it will create for trade, sustainability, innovation, and profit. With transformation already underway at every level and global catalysts continuing to emerge, Australia is as ready as ever to work proactively and lead our traceable future.