A current buzzword in the food and agriculture sector is traceability. In simple terms, traceability is the ability to follow an item or group of items such as animals, plants and food products throughout the supply chain, from farm to fork.

The growing demand for traceability in our food supply has been driven largely by supermarket chains and, to a lesser extent, the consumers who purchase their products. This so-called ‘honest food’ trend — what a product is, where it’s from and how it was grown — is already huge in Europe and important in Asia, where food safety is top of mind for some consumers in the wake of various scandals. Many experts are predicting a similar story to unfold here in North America soon too.

The benefit and cost of traceability

Traceability poses both benefits and challenges for farmers regardless of the type of operation they have. On the one hand, it can mean a premium paid by the manufacturers and retailers who require this detailed information. It can also mean improved market access, improved operational efficiencies, and increased consumer confidence. Conversely, it can represent a significant expense and logistical challenge for producers to meet their buyers’ traceability requirements, whether that’s making sure a product doesn’t come into contact with other items or gathering and logging the data required by their buyers.

Traceability requirements can vary widely depending on the type of product and specific market demands. Currently, there are no federal requirements for traceability in place. However, both levels of government along with industry have identified a full traceability system as a priority as part of a phased-in National Agriculture and Food Traceability System (NAFTS). NAFTS is expected to focus on livestock and poultry initially and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) has already endorsed it.

Farms will lead the way in adopting traceability practices

With accurate and timely traceability of food and food products becoming increasingly vital in agribusiness, it’s important for growers and everyone else in the value chain to get onboard or risk being left behind. That includes educating both retailers and consumers about how producers are using accountable, sustainable farm practices, and how they’re growing the food we eat in the proper way. By being in the driver’s seat, they are far more likely to have a say when it comes to establishing any new regulations or protocols such as a proposed National Environmental Farm Plan, the subject of a recent summit that brought together farmers and other industry stakeholders late last year.

Software and technology will support traceability implementation

Software, mobile apps, sensors, and telematics can be used to more efficiently track crop decisions and inputs, and make it easier to share data up the supply chain and meet traceability requirements.

The market for farm management software is very broad, and it covers a wide array of functionality and features, so it’s important to do your homework before buying and standardizing on a platform. The key considerations in selecting the right software include:

  1. The ability to collaborate and partner with farm service providers such as agronomists, equipment dealers, grain elevators, crop marketers, crop input providers and others on a single data platform.
  2. Plug and play integration with a wide selection of telematics, sensors and third party software to automate and reduce data entry.
  3. Mobile App and cloud-based software that is easy to use.
  4. The software platform should provide a complete solution to cover all your needs that likely range from precision agronomy, data management, crop marketing and more.
  5. Data ownership (ideally residing with the grower) and being able to easily export it for other uses.

Food traceability is here to stay and farms need to get ahead of the movement with stronger sustainability practices, the right know-how, and tools to streamline the management of these requirements.