Fixing The Broken Link In America’s Food Chain With One Simple Word: Communication

Tiago Sá is building an agricultural operating system to help farmers in Portugal work more efficiently. Utkarsh Singh is the cofounder o...

Tiago Sá is building an agricultural operating system to help farmers in Portugal work more efficiently. Utkarsh Singh is the cofounder of DronaMaps, an AI-powered platform that can analyze 3D maps of agricultural terrain in India and help precision farming and flood mitigation. Champ Muthle spent the last several months on farms in Hawaii, testing growers’ preferences for web-based farming apps versus something mobile or watch-based. And Annie Ostojic is a battery innovator and native Hoosier who saw firsthand how the early days of the coronavirus pandemic upended grocery supply chains in Indiana.

When these four entrepreneurs—all Forbes Under 30 alumni—came together for the Forbes Under 30 AgTech Hackathon Saturday morning, their task was to build resiliency in the food chain. What became immediately clear when they started talking was each person was already working on technology to help the world’s food producers—but their solutions weren’t talking to each other.

“The data and the information stop at the end of each one of those players,” Sá says. “If a supply chain is is a chain linking points, those points should be linked.”

The team’s proposal in the Hackathon was, therefore, a solution to provide the missing link. Called FarmFriend, it’s a unified web-based platform to provide a transparent data flow from farmers, to distributors, to retailers, to customers, who can in turn then talk to the farmers to close the loop. Here’s a look at how it works:

FarmFriend connects four very powerful data platforms: Farmers would pay for access to a farm management dashboard with inventory tracking capabilities. Distributors would pay the company for access to satellite imagery and AI algorithms to better track their fleets, data that would be enhanced by talking to the farmers with the improved inventory insight. Retailers would be able to talk to both farmers and distributors, and use shared data to better their knowledge about what food will hit shelves when, and consumers would have the ability to scan a QR code on their food that would take them right to the farmer who produced it.

As Ryan Larcom—a director at High Alpha and one of the Hackathon judges—suggested to the team in a presentation Sunday night, any one of these platforms would be a powerful solution for farmers around the world. The trick to making it work is having enough parties share data, and in a secure way.

Ostojic agrees with this assessment, but also touts the potential for where FarmFriend could go. “The reason I see it having so many applications is because of how connected it is—we don’t see a platform out there currently that has a centralized hub of connectivity,” she says. “The more you can have information in a centralized platform, the easier it is—especially with Covid-19 and reduced travel.”

She recalls the early days of Covid lockdowns in March and how, in her Indiana hometown, grocery store shortages led her to jump around from retailer to retailer to get the products her family needed.

“We realized there were certain supermarkets that supplied the main hospital in our town with all of the rubbing alcohol and the cleaning products which is what they should be doing. But from the consumer end, we didn’t know until we had like a friend of a friend who worked in the hospital, who knew and told us,” Ostojic says.

If communication between the stores and the consumer had been better—and if, in turn, the stores were getting better information from the distributors and farmers—Ostojic suspects the entire shopping experience would have been a little less stressful and a lot more efficient.

It sounds simple, but sometimes, the the simplest solutions are the most powerful. As Sá put it: “we don’t need to invent the wheel all over again, we just need to connect, connect the dots and improve the technologies already existed.”

Team members: Tiago Sá, Cofounder, Wisecrop; Utkarsh Singh, Cofounder, DrogaMaps; Annie Ostojic, Student, Stanford University; Champ Muthle, Founder, Adheat.

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Newsrust: Fixing The Broken Link In America’s Food Chain With One Simple Word: Communication
Fixing The Broken Link In America’s Food Chain With One Simple Word: Communication
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