Britt Dudek on Data and Technology on the Farm

The AGx Conference was a sponsored ApRecs event held in conjunction with the Washington State Horticultural Association Annual Meeting. Below is a transcription of Britt Dudek’s presentation on Data and Technology on the Farm.

Britt Dudek is a partner in ApRecs, and the Program Director. In this presentation, Britt speaks from the role of President of Dudek Orchards and addresses the management of data and technology from a grower’s perspective. He includes how he presently incorporates technology and where he sees the future

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Britt Dudek:  Well thank you all and as Drew had pointed out, my job here today is trying to convey how I perceive information and data from a small farmer’s perspective and what my frustrations are about it, what I’m doing to try to corral it and use it to my advantage, and kind of give you some examples as to where I see we are now in the industry and where I think we’d like to be in the future.

We have all this scattered amount of information, and we would like to turn it into data. This is my perspective; this is what I like to do. This is my farm; those are my honey crisps that I was taking from my old, nasty 165 out mowing the orchard. I would love to have a clear path on a daily basis to be able to do my job.  What I had to do, drive down the road, turn, come back. It’s very simple, very straight-forward. Unfortunately though, that’s not the life or world that I live in when it comes to farming. Farming has gone really complicated and really complicated by the fact that this is what I swim in now. I swim in this huge pool of information. It comes from every different source you can think of, you can imagine; it comes in every form you can think of.

We talk about data on the web, data and spreadsheets, data in your computers – I still receive information from some of my field men on a written page. I get maturity reports during harvest that are sitting on my back door on a piece of paper. You look at all this, not to mention all the other things I have to do as far as compliance issue goes, things that are trying to improve the product that I have to put out in the marketplace, but also deal with several different packing houses that all have their different requirements. I have different requirements for compliance, whether I’m doing SQF or global gap. That scary thing over there, it’s called FSMA that none of us really know exactly what it’s going to be but it isn’t going to be easy either way we do it. What my challenge is to find a method to take all of this information and do something with it.

Here is what we like to think farming is all about. A nice tree, take a little nap underneath it, pick a little fruit and what have you. That’s not the way it actually works, unfortunately. Maybe 40 or 50 years ago, yeah you could do this, but what I need is a tool that takes the information and puts it into something that I can actually utilize. We’ve got a lot of words that we turn these in and call it normalizing data, we’ve got all of these different kinds of industry buzz words, but what I needed to do is I needed to pull in all this information that I have. I need it from scouting reports, I need it from lab results, from leaf analysis, soil analysis, I need to know what my irrigators are doing, the recommendations that I’m receiving, the wants and the needs of the customer on the other end. All that needs to come into a centralized area that I can actually make sense of it.

One of the reasons why I started working with ApRecs is it’s a great data platform that is starting to help us normalize all this data and pull it together, and it’s data that we can actually use. Drew had asked me to kind of bring up one example, one real challenge that I have as a small grower and I thought the best way to do it with my rudimentary PowerPoint skills was to give you kind of an idea of how my fruit kind of moves from my tree through this contorted, kind of messy, sometimes almost impossible to move through data pipeline, all the way to the very end of the consumer.

One of the issues that we have out there is food traceability, and it’s not new to everybody; everybody understands it. But some people don’t quite understand the value of information that we have at certain points along the pipeline and where it currently just kind of disappears and fades in the background, and why we need to work towards moving all of this information into a common pipeline that not only helps us be compliant, but it also helps us move our product to the consumer in a better way and actually receive feedback.

This is a tortured path of how things move through. They start out in the orchard, they wind up in a bin, they get picked, they get tagged. That tag tells you exactly where it was picked, who picked it, what the unique bin number is on it. For all those Stemilt people out there, you could see there’s one of your Stemilt tags out there. So load it on the truck, send it over to the packing warehouse, they unload it, they go ahead, they dump it, they mingle it with all the rest of my fruit. It winds up in boxes; it winds up in shelves and then it winds up moving out into the retail marketplace.

You can see all through the process here, data is being collected, but there are some points and there’s a valve in there in the middle where one of the points kind of disappears, where the data isn’t being passed through all the way down the stream. Some of these are challenges that I think we are currently overcoming, and I’m very happy about this because what we’d really like to do is turn this complicated mess into this. This is what we’d like to know. I would like to know who’s actually consuming my fruit. Did they like it? Did they enjoy it? Was there something that I could do better about it? Not just on the compliance side because if I can bring better value to the customer, it’s going to bring better dollars back to me on the farm and everybody through that entire pipeline.

My goal, as I work forward and move through this whole process, is to create a pipeline that looks more like this, than anything else that we’ve seen. But one of the issues that we ran into out there — and Amber, my internal auditor is here for Stemilt is assessed about mock recalls. We have to plan for that as a food traceability issue. One of the challenges we have is the fact that as my food moves or my product moves into the processing system, how it can get lost in the shuffle, not to mention my packed product but anything that moves off into the processing side because it gets commingled with all sorts of other fruit out there.

One of the challenges that I have as a small grower when it comes to these mock recalls is if a consumer does have an issue with something that could be traced back to me directly, the problem is right now, there’s a disconnect in that pipeline and so the industry response is, well we can’t trace that food all the way back to the picker that picked it or the bin that it came from. They can kind of get it back to maybe the variety. As a small grower, as they say, well we had a problem with one of your Galas, we’re just going to have to recall all of your Galas. That’s a little tough hit for a small guy.

My purpose in trying to be involved in this is seeing how we can utilize information and turn it into data and so that doesn’t happen to me on a recall basis, but it also prevents it from happening in the other direction and I can continue to bring that good value to the end user and understand whether they liked the product and how I can do better to improve it. I know that this only scratches the surface and we don’t want to go on or try to limit ourselves to about 10 minutes or so because there’s a whole other world of data out there and how that data can be used on the farm to improve our product and make it better.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you with this. We don’t know exactly where we’re going when it comes to bringing all this data in and utilizing in on the farm; I’m just here to tell you that as things change and advance in the future, our world is our oyster and we’re making great strides out there right now. But the key thing is just think about transferring information and turning it into data so I can actually use it on the farm and push it up through the pipeline, create value for the end user and in the end, everybody down the lines goes ahead and prospers from it. So anyway with that, I will pass it along.

AGx was not a one-time event. Find out more about the continued series at http://aprecs.com/agx