Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds You

It’s hard to believe how far agricultural production has come in the last 40 years. Various sectors such as farm power and equipment, plant and animal breeding, fertilizers, animal feeding, disease control, you name it, have successfully adapted to a world where population growth and consumerism are increasing at an all-time high. However, there is one crucial part that hasn’t been able to keep up: trade.

Farmers and ranchers of the mid 1980’s received only 31 cents for every dollar their produce earned. The rest was spent on sowing and distribution and every stage in between. Fortunately for farmers worldwide, technology has elevated agriculture to a level that would leave our underpaid protagonists weeping. Farm productivity has soared in recent decades thanks to intelligent machinery, automated packing houses, farm drones, efficient water systems, robotic scarecrows and the list goes on. For all those who snoozed during Econ 101, this should mean that modern farmers are making the big bucks- more supply, more money. Unfortunately, technological innovations have not been favorable for those on the production side of the agricultural equation. Farm profitably has actually decreased to 16 cents for every dollar earned. Adam Smith may be the father of economics but he clearly was not a farmer. So, where’s the dough?

It’s easy to point fingers at big corporations or blame unpredictable weather patterns but the bottom line is that the actual trade of produce has not evolved to suit modern business practices. Instead, it has remained an industry with an annual value of 3.1 trillion dollars that relies mostly on non-digital interactions such as paper records handshakes, and verbal agreements. These archaic practices have generated numerous problems including, fraud, murky pricing, and a dependence on costly intermediaries.

Throughout the trade process, suppliers and buyers exchange endless paper documentation: contracts, billing, and other trade related data. They are then tasked with reorganizing, presenting, and delivering this paper trail to each other and to third parties such as financial institutes, logistics, and insurance companies. It’s a tedious and cyclical process that, coupled with additional regulatory requirements, becomes a business of its own, with many companies hiring teams of specialists just to get it over with. Paperwork doesn’t just increase the workload it also affects commercial relationships and synchronization between the different bodies involved in agricultural trade.

It is generally accepted that paper trails are not the best way to do business but does that mean that all forms of digital interactions and transactions are efficient and beneficial? Sending emails to your customers and keeping track of your ongoing transactions using Excel and the cloud is not a digital way to conduct trade - it is using digital tools to conduct the