In today’s economy, technology, big data and analytics are transforming nearly every industry, and agriculture is no different. Hundreds of startups are developing technology to tackle challenges within the produce industry, which can help growers mitigate risks, improve safety and maximize yield.
Just how is the information revolution changing the face of the produce industry?
To provide concrete examples of technology in action, uncover how tech is driving change and understand what it means for the future of the industry, we’ve talked with three key players, FreshSurety Corp., Agrilyst and iUNU. We’re kicking off the conversation with FreshSurety as part one of a three-part series.
At FreshSurety Corp., sensors are measuring the freshness of produce, monitoring product quality and shelf life information as products move from farm to supermarket. That could create a huge advantage considering about 30 percent of everything that is grown is lost because growers can’t get it at the right place in the right state for people to buy, said Tom Schultz, founder and chief executive officer of FreshSurety.
One of the challenges with produce is that a visual inspection can only tell you so much, and currently there is no electronic, mechanical, repeatable way to determine whether a box of strawberries is fresh or not, Schultz explained. “In the lab five people look at it and grade it, that is as close as they can go,” he said.
The problem with visual inspections, whether in a lab or the supermarket, is that produce spoils from the inside out, so FreshSurety is taking a completely different approach. “Everyone knows you can determine fresh produce by the smell,” Schultz said.
FreshSurety has developed an electronic sensing system that measures airborne volatile organic compounds. It can provide users with a metric for every pallet of product, reporting every 10 minutes or as frequently as needed. We’re going from blind assumption to complete clarity on what freshness is anywhere in the cold chain.
This device is electronic at the top and has a sensor in the bottom. It sends its updates to the cloud, providing a snapshot of all the compounds in the air around that fruit. FreshSurety takes the data, analyzes it and uses an algorithm to compare it to past experiences. “We have a hundred, a thousand or a million snapshots for this fruit. We say, for this information, which of those snapshots is closest. With the algorithm, we find the best fit,” Schultz said, adding that, with each delivery, FreshSurety takes snapshots it adds to its experience pool.
FreshSurety was founded two years ago. So far, the company has demonstrated the concept with strawberries with Driscoll, Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh and is helping AgroFresh monitor apples in storage. Schultz said he expects the company will expand rapidly, but he is only looking to add 20 customers to the portfolio. “We’re partnering with big companies already in the business to enhance their business rather than being a standalone company competing with giants,” he said.
Today FreshSurety has information on strawberries and apples, but it can collect a different set of experiences for different types of produce to expand its offerings.
Schultz predicts the technology will transform the produce industry. “The reason is, the minute you have a metric that measures freshness, you can then assign responsibility to everybody in the chain for maintaining that,” he said. “We’re going to force the industry to get more efficient, have a higher yield and be more sustainable because now everybody can be measured and be more responsible for their share of the trip.”
Next, we will talk with Agrilyst and iUNU to learn more about their technology and how it is helping growers.