By Connor Lynch
Blockchain is becoming bigger and bigger news in Ontario agriculture. Not just a bit of technobabble, it’s an innovative online security system that can provide anything from easier marketing for grain farmers to improving livestock tracking during transit.
Simply put, blockchain is a system of securing information on the internet. It has two parts: The block and the chain. The block is simple. It’s just a piece of information. The chain is the code that connects pieces of information to track movement and/or record a transaction.
For example, when selling grain using blockchain, the block is the record of the transaction. The chain is the bit of computer code that verifies that the seller is legitimate and adds the latest block of information to thousands of different computers, which is called the public ledger. It is, in fact, public. Anyone can check it, though it protects personal identities.
Whenever that chain is updated, say by someone buying grain, all those thousands of computers check each other’s information and correct any errors. That’s what makes blockchain secure: Trying to falsify a payment would require a hacker to change the information on thousands of computers simultaneously. Otherwise, the public ledger corrects the error.
Blockchain has been making waves, mostly in the tech industry. But it’s a versatile tool, and recently some companies have seen potential to use it in the ag sector. Walmart is using blockchain to track leafy greens from farms to its shelves, and meat giant Cargill is using blockchain in 30 states to track turkeys from farm to table.
Here’s what’s going on with blockchain in Ontario.
A company called Grain Discovery secured its first grain sale using blockchain. Picton-area farmer Lloyd Crowe sold a load of vomitoxin-infected corn that had been rejected by an elevator.
Another startup in Ontario is trying to use blockchain to let farmers monetize their data. Called mPowered, the plan is this: Farmers would set up an account, like Facebook, and download their data onto it. Blockchain would secure the data. Then, companies who wanted to use it would have to reach out and offer a price.
One of the biggest discussion points of blockchain in agriculture is for traceability. Transport Genie is looking to use sensors inside livestock trucks and to secure the data with blockchain to track conditions for animals during transit. The key here is how hard it is to alter blockchain data: Consumers could be sure that the data gathered hasn’t been changed.
The Canadian Sheep Federation announced earlier this year it had successfully tested a similar program. Called SheepTrace, it tracked 30 lambs from birth to packaging, including production information useful to producers, such as performance, grading and wool data.