What are the business problems that keep you up at night — the ones that might have some potential to be solved and alleviated with new technology? This is the conversation we at Western Growers want to have with you. We have been charged by our Board of Directors to find ways to identify and develop technological tools or methods that will solve the problems you are facing and then accelerate the availability and affordability of that technology.
For example, Western Growers is studying food safety and compliance by working closely with a few WG-member companies. We know that complying with multiple food safety standards, preparing for numerous audits and doing this across diverse crops in varying locations often boils down to one big massive “paper chase.” The constant pursuit of certificates of analysis, water test reports, pre-plant, pre-harvest and at-harvest environmental assessments leaves people little time to stop, input data, analyze trends and act on the information. Working directly with food safety professionals within our member companies, we have begun to develop software as a service that will make the process easier. We are eliminating paper, saving time and freeing up food safety professionals so they may focus on the big picture.
The first of these efforts is an environmental assessment tool that is field ready today and will be part of a comprehensive set of food safety-oriented tools. It is a tablet- or smartphone-based system that allows users to go out in the field and answer a set of questions that are part of a pre-harvest food safety inspection. By doing this, the safe and secure digital information is easily available to any designated company employee. Having this information at your fingertips will provide many advantages to your operation especially when preparing for an audit. As we develop this tool, we are mapping out various methods and devices, and testing them by conducting trials with participating member companies and asking along the way, “What would make it better? What do you need? Does this solve your problem?”
Sharing this type of information securely with Western Growers allows us to make adjustments to the tool itself. We are also able to aggregate the data from participating members to identify and resolve certain common problems that may be better addressed and solved by the industry and not just left to each individual company to wrestle with. In previous President’s Notes columns, I mentioned that we know we need lots of quantifiable data — big data — to enable us to offer proof and evidence to regulators, customers, their customers, legislators, journalists and others of our first-class operational performance and value. We know how to farm, and we do it well. The world is now demanding verification of our excellence, so we must quantify and provide it for our own sake. This is agriculture in the 21st century, and Western Growers wants to help you survive these changes.
Western Growers’ mission and bottom-line goal is to help improve net revenue for our members. There are many areas where this may be feasible through technology and innovation. How do we reduce inputs and waste during production, packing and processing; increase yields and nutritional density for fruits, vegetables and tree nuts; and reduce the need for manual labor? The first steps are to identify the key areas of focus and then seek out and incubate new ideas, novel solutions and better tools.
So I want to ask you, “What are the issues that are worrisome to you — large or small? What are the problems that may be costing you money or slowing your sales?” We want to know and be able to understand the issues you have that might be solved or eased by the development and use of a new technology. Tell us. We are here to help. Please write to me: email@example.com.
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Western Growers members care deeply for the food they grow, the land they sustain, the people they employ, and the community in which they live.