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Blockchain on the farm: data exchange for a safe supply chain

With funding from the INTERREG Blockstart Project, poultry farmer Nijkamp from Raalte examined whether blockchain technology could provide a solution for reliable data in the poultry industry. He was assisted in this by logistics students from Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Robert Nijkamp’s company is based in Raalte: “We are a poultry farm with free-range chickens for meat. We focus on raising chickens until they are large enough to enter the food chain.” Nijkamp is a modern farmer who is at the forefront when it comes to using data in his business. He does, however, run into obstacles: “Much has already been automated in our business. But within our collaborative supply chain, I often have to enter the same data multiple times in a portal or app, even though everything has already been confirmed.” It is a source of major frustration for Nijkamp: “It concerns the data exchange between slaughterhouses, retailers, suppliers, and so on. It means there are still too many islands of data and I want to change that.”

The data collected on chickens can range from health matters, such as compulsory salmonella testing, to practical questions, such as the type of feed they have had. Each party has its own set of requirements, which in turn results in a lot of paperwork, even though it would be better to enter the data centrally in one go. This led Nijkamp to blockchain technology and ultimately to Blockstart. “The question that needed to be asked was which issues would benefit from using blockchain technology with data as a form of assurance, like a sort of warranty label. So we are working with Windesheim University of Applied Sciences and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences to assess which data is suitable for this. We can then look into how we can implement it.”

Feasibility study

Klara Paardenkooper, researcher and lecturer at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, supervised the students with their research: “The idea of blockchain in this particular case is that data need not be entered by hand, but retrieved from sensors. This will eliminate human error. For example, Nijkamp has a Better Life quality label and is therefore officially inspected once or twice a year. Verification of the living conditions of chickens using encrypted data would reduce the need for physical inspections. The major feature of blockchain technology is that it enables different parties to trust each other.”

“Our students carried out a logistics study. This involves visualising the supply chain, researching where the bottlenecks are and then trying to find solutions for them. The students carried out a feasibility study that involved looking for the best instrument to resolve each specific problem.”

It was an inspiring case study for Paardenkooper and the students following the minor in Innovative ICT: “As a university of applied sciences, our focus is on education, research and the business community. In that respect, this is an excellent example of what we do and provides a perfect stimulus for the students.”

Food safety

Nijkamp expects that blockchain can be used for collecting data in the area of food safety: “This includes traceability regarding the origin of the animals, which is of great importance to the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. But we should also be able to apply blockchain encryption to areas such as laboratory results of salmonella control.”

Paardenkooper points out that the study also showed that blockchain can make a positive contribution to food safety: “They developed a ‘zero-proof knowledge’ application for salmonella, which can be used to prove whether salmonella is present in the supply chain, without indicating where it is specifically located. This shows whether or not the supply chain is safe and as result strengthens the position of farmers in the supply chain and increases confidence in the quality of the meat.”

International perspective

When it comes to innovation, Nijkamp also looks further afield. “I have seen what poultry farms in China and Thailand are doing. They are able to innovate more easily because of their scale. Dutch companies are limited in size and therefore need to collaborate.” That is also why Nijkamp decided to set up the Boer en Data (Farmer and Data) foundation, a national consortium of data initiatives.

Nijkamp also indicates that data in the chicken supply chain is generally very reliable. This is because of the large-scale control system. “I undergo unannounced inspections several times a year, as do vets, and I have to provide all kinds of information. It makes it a very expensive system. If blockchain can play a role in this, it would result in huge cost savings.”

Blockstart The European Blockstart project helps SME companies strengthen their competitiveness through the use of blockchain technology. The INTERREG project offers a free training programme worth a maximum of 7,500 euros. The whole programme offers 60 such training courses. The programme focuses on companies operating in the healthcare, logistics and agro-food sectors.

The Blockstart project is part of the INTERREG North-West Europe Programme. The INTERREG North-West Europe Programme falls under the EU Cohesion Policy and is financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel are co-financiers of the project. The Blockstart project has a timeline of 3.5 years and a budget of five million euros at its disposal. A full list of all European partners can be found on the website of INTERREG North-West Europe.

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