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The state of play for blockchain and why ‘tech stacks’ help drive adoption

Focusing on supply chain collaboration instead of competition, is the core focus of AgriDigital and Geora’s recent integration, designed to give grain growers more control of their digital assets. Here we explore how tech stacks are helping users to overcome the barriers to adoption for blockchain and create value beyond the farm gate.

AgriDigital Co-Founders Emma Weston, Bob McKay and Ben Reid at Dubbo, NSW.

Collaboration between companies investing in blockchain technology for agriculture has the potential to turn a traditionally competitive supply chain ‘on its head’ and encourage cooperation instead, according to AgriDigital CEO & Co-Founder, Emma Weston.

In June 2021, AgriDigital launched an integration between its farmer product, Waypath, which enables farmers to generate a digital record of their grain inventory using blockchain when they make a delivery, and Geora, which provides secure blockchain-based infrastructure to support inventory traceability and financing.

“By connecting farmers to blockchain through our Geora integration we are now enabling them to push key data about the grain to buyers, who also need to be able to rely on the integrity of this data,” said Emma.

“The value of blockchain technology is most powerful where different participants who have never met each other or may not have complete trust in each other can still operate with safety and security.”

As the integration capabilities continue to be developed by both companies, the efficiencies and gains are expected to be around streamlined workflows, permissioned access to data and ultimately payments and finance; said Emma.

Providing value beyond the farm gate

AgriDigital is fast becoming one of the leading technology providers to the grains industry connecting physical inventory, supply chain data and finance. With a customer network of over 8,000 grain farmers, elevators, traders and processors, and offices in Australia and the US, the company digitizes harvest, sales, trading, storage, logistics and payment across the entire grain supply chain.

Geora grew out of AgriDigital’s initial blockchain pilot work with sheep meats leader Fletcher International Exports, grain giant CBH Limited and financier Rabobank Australia.

It’s not only grain that stands to benefit from blockchain, Emma explained – the technology can also be integrated into the livestock, horticulture and niche industries, and will accelerate the pace at which farmers can access value beyond the farm gate.

“Blockchain enables farmers to participate in supply chain activities through the use and control of their digital grain assets into the supply chain. So, it’s really starting to turn some of those competitive business models to being cooperative instead, challenging how value is created and shared across the supply chain, potentially to the benefit of farmers,” she said.

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“There is a big initiative amongst the multinational grain companies to look at ways in which they can cooperate to minimise post-trade transaction risk, once grain has been shipped, and to make that more efficient and to reduce costs to themselves and the industry. And that’s really happening out of a new type of collaboration driven by technology.”

Geora CEO and Co-Founder Bridie Ohlsson agrees that integrations, such as with Waypath will help to accelerate the pace at which farmers can access value beyond the farm gate.

“This integration will add value beyond managing grain inventories but also allowing Waypath farmers access to complementary solutions like traceability, finance and to be connected with the supply chain beyond simply selling their grain as a price taker.”

The ‘tech stack’ helps to overcome barriers to adoption

One of the adoption barriers of blockchain is farmers understanding of how it works and what other products and services need to be implemented around the technology, explained Emma. She said the answer lies in delivering it in a product with a complete ‘tech stack’, to minimise friction points.

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“Our Waypath application is a beautifully designed product that enables farmers to solve the problem of managing their grain from the paddock at harvest all the way through to payment. We need to make this as easy as possible so that farmers and their teams and advisors don’t have to think about what’s happening in the backend, about what’s actually powering all of these interactions, which for those farmers using our integration with Geora will be blockchain.

“The quickest way that we can see blockchain becoming ubiquitous across the industry is through ease of access, by having better applications, better apps on mobiles, better connectivity.

“I personally believe that over the next five to ten years, blockchain will be part of many supply chain and finance technology stacks, particularly where there are diverse participants who all have an interest in a common asset, such as a load or silo full of grain.”

While some critics still disparage blockchain as a ‘fad’, Emma said it’s still relatively early days for the technology and it’s no different to the internet, which took ten to fifteen years to be widely used and adopted from its early genesis.

“I have put away my crystal ball in terms of making pronouncements about where blockchain will be in five, ten, fifteen years and my focus now is on what can we do with the broad range of digital technologies to solve real problems today. At the end of the day that’s what it’s about, it’s not about the technology, it’s about making supply chains more efficient and less risky,” she explained.

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Using blockchain to prove sustainable production

While AgriDigital maintains a strong vertical focus on the grains industry, the ability for blockchain technologies to drive innovation and solutions across the agricultural industry doesn’t stop at grain.

“I know that Geora itself has provided solutions to niche industries such as essential oils or the tea tree industry. There are also some really problematic industries like palm oil that directly impact forestry and canopy issues, and they’re looking at blockchain as a way of being able to drive sustainable production,” said Emma.

“AgriDigital and Geora are actually doing the same in the US as well, using an underlying blockchain infrastructure to track low carbon grain from the field all the way into the market, and to start testing whether there are premium paying markets for sustainably produced commodities.”

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Australia, a global leader in agritech

“Undoubtedly, Australia is seen as a global leader in agtech,” Emma proudly said.

“We’re one of the strongest nations globally in terms of our level of innovation and our market presence. What Australian agtech is doing really successfully is commercialising those innovations, so we’re not just keeping it at an R&D level, we’re really looking to have a commercial impact globally.

“There are some amazing startups and scale-ups now in the agtech sector and I think we should be really proud in Australia with what we’re creating, and we continue to bat above our weight.”

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