Technology plays an increasingly important role across all sectors of the global economy. More recently, this has become evident in the efficiencies it can drive in the food industry, from bespoke software development for supply chain management, to precision farming techniques, and hardware capabilities like using drones and IoT (internet of things).
“As we stare down the barrel of the unprecedented COVID-19 global pandemic, I feel immense gratitude for the opportunity of being involved in the agricultural sector. It is the very lifeblood industry keeping us alive as we unravel a different looking world going forward. South Africa has demonstrated its togetherness during this time and is thankfully a relatively food secure nation. For this reason, and many more, managing risk and ensuring efficiency in the produce we export is paramount,” comments Greg Whitaker, CEO, Agrigate One.
Founded in 2018, start-up tech business, AgrigateOne, launched its seamless trading platform that integrates all aspects of the fresh produce value chain into an easy to use technology. It has a proven capability of bringing sellers and buyers into a closed loop ecosystem, drives transparency, accountability and creates cost efficiencies to all parties involved, from farm to fork. The software matches supply and demand: integrating compliance and logistics moving parts and summarising all data into one dashboard. Trades are private: only involved parties have sight of those between one another.
“I grew up on a citrus farm in Limpopo and spent 8 years working for a leading logistics company. During this time I noticed efficiencies in other industries that were not apparent in agriculture. I turned my focus to solving the barriers and challenges that farmers, buyers and retailers experience in fresh produce. Our product is built for purpose. It has grown from rigorous attention to detail and efficiency of scale, to ensure that it works for our customers: to ultimately deliver cost and time savings. It creates a space where farmers and buyers can focus on building trusted relationships with one another and rely on the platform to ensure operational administration runs smoothly,” continues Whitaker.
AgrigateOne focused initially on the citrus industry, with a long-term view to bring all perishable produce on board. In year one, 12 farmers, together with leading international citrus buyers and retailers, were invited to sign up, connect and pilot the service. The dashboard is user friendly: providing a clear audit trail and a variety of functionality including live tracking fresh produce from farm gate to customer, to legislative documentation, food safety protocol, shipping requirements and invoicing in the near future. The system can parse documents and relate them back to specific orders. It works much like a social media platform, where stakeholders can view one another, request to connect and accept accordingly.
“As a farmer, AgrigateOne has offered me unrivalled clarity and productivity. This has become even more apparent during the global pandemic. The software offers consistency of reporting and complete line of sight across the board notwithstanding our business operating with a serious shortage of staff. It drives responsibility and assurance throughout the order cycle and places relevant onus for a quality product on me as a farmer. I find the centrality of accessing buyer needs around the globe hugely beneficial to reducing food waste and time,” shares Justin Whitaker, Limpopo Citrus.
Historically, growers have taken on a lot of the risk. As all commercial and quality claims ultimately come back to the farmer, it seems sensible that they are empowered to understand better what happens beyond their packhouse. AgrigateOne shifts emphasis of answerability throughout and engenders credibility for all players in the market. The system is designed to plug into existing IT systems that growers have on farm. For traceability, it is also linked to port systems, logistics companies, and cold storage facilities in relevant countries. With maintaining the original buyer and grower relationship.
“A business needs to run at the right margin and AgrigateOne is providing the opportunity for this to happen at all levels in a fair and ethical manner. Through its use Fresh Fruit Company (FFC) has been allowed to tap directly into the farming operation, bringing to life each shipment we order through the software. It is also a fantastic planning tool,” says Christian Henke, FFC, Hamburg Germany.
For example, collectively, the beta year saw three of the farmers who signed up onboard the platform, ship 600 000 cartons to 28 international buyers, which translates to 417 containers and 223 purchase orders. Tapping into the broader conversation around precision and predictive farming, it is for today and into the future, about having the data and analytics to run and grow your business. This kind of thinking begins to mitigate the risk of having prices crash, creating an industry that is more mature and mindful of the people and planet constraints that we live in.
“We treat our technology like fruit, it is reviewed as often as possible, to ensure that it remains relevant. Our future sights are set to tap into aspects like accreditations (and so having the “right” to trade ethically), tracking chemical usage, creating a rating system, predictive analytics and decision making, that based on historical data can anticipate potential pitfalls and opportunities. We’re also thinking about an exception management tool to improve food security, smart sourcing and waste,” concludes Whitaker.
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