Using existing tools in Big Data science, a team from the University of Illinois is creating a technology which will not only be able to trace the origin of produce to the individual farm, but also pinpoint the exact plot of land on which it was grown. The result of the smarter technology will mean less food needing to be purged and safer produce for the consumers.
From the supermarket, current technology only provides the exact origins of its food with about 60 percent certainty. That means in the event of a recall, oftentimes a store’s entire stock of a given product must be thrown out with other retailers/distributors having to do the same. However, using existing tools in Big Data science, a team from the University of Illinois is creating a technology which will not only be able to trace the origin of produce to the individual farm, but also pinpoint the exact plot of land on which it was grown. The result of the smarter technology will mean less food needing to be purged and safer produce for the consumers.
The leadership for the start-up Food Origins includes Richard Sowers, a professor in Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, Jay Fleischman, a sophomore in materials science and engineering, Devasia Manual, a sophomore in computer engineering and Nathan Dorne, the Director of Knowledge and Innovation at Reiter Affiliated Companies in California. The group was given the $3,500 Cozad Ag Startup Award at last month’s Cozad New Venture Competition on campus.
“Part of the challenge of Big Data isn’t just collecting the data, but sifting through it and to draw meaningful conclusions,” Fleischman said. “What we’re trying to do is go beyond advanced technology beyond just bar codes, taking advantage of cloud computing and GPS technologies to pinpoint exactly where each package is picked to where it’s distributed and manage all that data, enabling farmers to save time and money while also keeping people safer.”
The two most liable in the event of a recall are the farmers and the distribution companies many independent farms use to deliver their produce.
“Our service is going to be something that provides access to both of them, letting them communicate with each other,” Fleischman said.
The system will also help consumers, allowing them, through the Food Origins app, to check exactly where their produce was harvested and any relevant genetic strain/GMO information, time of harvest and recall status it may have.
Although the immediate goal of the group is to address traceability of contaminated food, the technology has the ability to address other inefficiencies in farming. Using the single-meter resolution data, farmers will have access to additional tools to analyze the relative productivity of each of their harvest employees, the varying yields of different crop genetic strains and the optimization of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides to strengthen their yields year by year.
“The great thing about our company is that we’re not using some novel untested technology,” Fleischman said. “Everything we’re doing is pretty well established; we’re just applying it to an underdeveloped area for the benefit of all stakeholders in the produce industry.”
The Food Origins data collection system of analysis includes not only software, but also proprietary scanners. They have developed the prototype for the scanner, are undergoing the process of incorporation, and anticipate about 6-9 months of development before Food Origins 1.0 is set to enter the marketplace. They plan to integrate these systems with current processes that are already in place for those entities as well as in supermarkets.
“On the positive side, there is no doubt our product fills a need,” Fleischman said. “The challenge is the fact that many distinct systems are already in place. However, we have talked with many of those companies and based on their feedback have determined that it wouldn’t be too difficult to achieve a cohesive data ecosphere, which achieves complete vertical integration. With our Food Origins systems, everyone will be connected to the complete story telling where the produce has been -- from the field to the dinner plate.”