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Expanding eConnectivity in agriculture

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Aerin Curtis

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

25-Mar-2017
Last updated on 04-Apr-2017 at 16:27 GMT2017-04-04T16:27:09Z

© iStock/pichet

© iStock/pichet

US grain producers and handlers may soon have more powerful data management capabilities to address traceability and the regulatory needs of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) thanks to a collaborative effort.

An initiative called Commodity Automation for Rail and Truck (CART) was started two years ago by AgGateway, a group backing the use of eBusiness standards and guidelines on an international scale, in conjunction with the US Grain and Feed Council.

The project was a response to the needs of growers for more effective electronic data exchange at the interfaces between harvesting equipment and transport vehicles, through delivery to a grain elevator or storage bin.

The goal is the design a data exchange implementation guideline using existing standards that will allow technology used in different parts of grain harvesting, management and transportation systems to talk to each other, said Scott Nieman, enterprise integration architect with Land O’Lakes.

He told FeedNavigator: “As we progress, it’s become [evident] we can gather huge volumes of data about the harvesting.” 

CART looks to implement standardized messages from the widely adopted AgXML standards for rail, barge and truck grain transport. These standards serve as the basis for electronic transaction for bills of lading, commodity movement, contracts, contract pricing, quality certificates, weight certificates, rail rates electronic exchange, biofuels support and settlements.

AgGateway said that CART wants to tie together existing standards where possible, and collaborate with other organizations as needed.  

The CART team includes participants from BASF, Bayer CropScience, Heartland Co-op, John Deere, Land O' Lakes, ProAg, Purdue University, Software Solutions Integrated, SST Software, Syngenta, Texas A&M University, among others.

Companies involved in CART met last month to map out a plan to complete the standards work by June.

The grain industry has not been able to efficiently track harvested grain from harvester to grain cart, grain cart to truck, truck to elevator, and elevator to processor: “We’re focusing on how to capture the transfer events as they happen - this information can be fed forward,” said Nieman. 

The aim is improve overall documentation of feed grains as they move from combine to storage, to feed mill and then to feed manufacturer, said Nieman. It works using open source technology that can communicate between different equipment used in spate production phases.

AgGateway has also developed open source technology that can help integrate different equipment to FMIS applications. “We are also looking at how do we pair up containers using existing technology similar to Bluetooth pairing,” he added.

If equipment involved does not already have the necessary technology items like electronic id, tags can be added to document different steps, he said. And, advances in dust resilient sensor technology also would benefit the industry. 

Another challenge is that most grain elevators generate paper records, instead of an electronic system and that grain blending and general bin management will always limit traceability capabilities. Control software for grain elevator processes is available, but not widely used, he said. “Most companies have a hard time making that investment,” he added.

The project coordinators have already started to diagram the process documenting where the information exchange would need to occur.

FSMA accountability

When complete, the implementation guidelines would allow for a quick check of feed ingredient sourcing and could be used to meet accountability measures in FSMA, said Nieman.

"As we progress, it’s becoming increasingly viable that we can gather huge volumes of harvesting data including geospatial detail and correlate this to other sets of information using BigData analytic techniques,” he said. “While feed manufacturers benefit from traceability capabilities, growers also benefit from knowing how to optimize yield on specific fields based on grain grading test results - it’s a win-win”.

The act has created a “hot potato” in terms of accountability.

“Ultimately for Land O’Lakes, in the case of grain our Purina Animal Nutrition line of business, we get passed that hot potato on grain receipt,” he said. “So if contamination goes undetected through our receiving and manufacturing process, and out to our customer, our name is attached.  We’re the ones who are accountable and we’re the ones who will be asking for more information from our suppliers if we don’t already have it. Our goal is to minimize our exposure if something does happen.” 

However, by using standards to track all the different parts of the transition that feed grains make from field to finished product it helps with accountability, he said. “You’re reducing the exposure if something goes wrong,” he added.

While it would be ideal to get details like grain quality or moisture content before it even reaches the manufacturing stage, the first step is to be able to get all the “identifiers” to track the grains progress, he said. “If I can get the identifiers, something happens I should be able to query back to the grain elevator,” he added.

“In the long term, I could electronically receive the complete hierarchy of container identifiers and transfer events," said Nieman. "If by rare chance there was a recall, in the short term, we need to the ability to quickly identify our exposure – in the context of FSMA the timeframe is short – and to do it via paper is painstaking. But to have a set of queries and find it in minutes, the value is tremendous.” 

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