How Spain is supporting crop traceability in the global food supply chain 

Spain is promoting digital reporting on crop treatments for the 2024 season across 800,000 farms. This monumental change offers significant opportunities for improved transparency across the supply chain.

Spain is changing farm reporting for the better.

This past December, the Spanish Agrarian Guarantee Fund (FEGA) launched an online portal called SIEX, which is a tool that will allow farms to submit monthly reports on plant protection treatments. This year, the new centralized system for growers is being highly incentivized to prepare farms for a future where monthly digital reporting becomes mandatory. Growers will know the process as the ‘Digital Notebook’, which uses a farm’s unique ID to automatically visualize the farm’s field boundaries to make reporting plant protection products used on crops easier and less prone to errors.  As one of Europe’s top food-producing nations, promoting a standardized approach to data management for crop inputs will unlock opportunities to easily share and re-use this data across the food supply chain. Critically, it can support this change while respecting the data privacy rights of the farm and without increasing the administration workload for the farming team. 

What does fresh produce traceability look like today?

Globally, consumers have been demanding more transparency about how their food is processed, and this is particularly true of fresh produce. Offering information about how fresh produce is handled to the consumer, however, is a daunting task.  Global solution providers, such as GS1, offer guidelines for Fresh and Vegetable Traceability. Below is their simplified overview of the Produce Supply Chain, which still has 15 touchpoints between the farm and the consumer. In blue, GS1 has highlighted three global standards for managing product items, global locations and shipping container codes as described below. These standards, if managed correctly across all 15 touch points, create the possibility for a consumer to scan a QR code and quickly learn which farm an apple was grown on.

Image from GS1 

GTIN

Global Trade Item Number: Types of products at any packaging level, e.g., consumer unit, inner pack, case, pallet.

It allows product-level identification, which is helpful for inventory management and tracing batches back to the grower or producer.

GLN

Global Location Number: Physical Locations (Farms, fields, warehouses, etc…)

SSCC

Serial Shipping Container Code: Logistic units are a combination of trade items packaged together for storage and/or transport purposes, such as a case, pallet, or parcel.

Example GS1 DataBar Expanded Stacked barcode. 

Next Level Traceability

For consumers who want to know where their food is grown and how far it has traveled, current systems solve this reasonably well so long as the data can be consistently managed across the many touch points. Still, there is a lot of data that isn’t yet easily communicated across the supply chain. The types of pesticides and fertilizers used on farms are increasingly becoming a concern to consumers, but getting this data from the farm (or an input supplier) and efficiently passing it across the supply chain is not happening today.  Similarly, if you want to know what type of farming practices are being used in the field, no one in the supply chain, least of all the consumers, would have the opportunity to understand this today. 

Diagram from Bridging the Gaps in Traceability Systems for Fresh Produce Supply Chains as published by Applied Agri-Technologies 2.

The first step in fixing this gap in transparency is enabling the farm to easily report this information in a standardized format so that the data can be efficiently captured and shared.  This is precisely why the recent changes in Spain’s agricultural reporting processes are so fundamentally important.  The data consumers are still looking to understand is only available from the farm.  No one else in the supply chain can tell you what chemicals were used to protect the apple you buy in the grocery store from insects in the field; only the farmer has this data.  The farmer is also incredibly busy with other compliance administrative work to sell their crops, so more paperwork inside the farm gate cannot be the solution.

 If we can standardize compliance reporting and find digital solutions to minimize the effort from the farm, we can start to solve the data gap consumers are demanding answers to. 

Transparency on farm will improve trust

With any type of communication, trust in the message and the messengers is essential. Across the supply chain, not all actors are perceived as equal by consumers. In 2021, the team at EIT Food conducted the Trust Report across 18 European countries surveying more than 20,000 consumers. The survey rated consumer level trust in the 4 main groups across the food supply chain: Farms, Retailers, Manufacturers and Authorities.  The research found that trust in farmers was unanimously higher than others. In particular,  Europeans trust farmers 67% of the time compared to Authorities and Manufacturers, who are trusted by less than half of consumers (48%). In Spain, the difference is even wider, with farmers being trusted by 81% of consumers. 

The challenge to be solved is to get the data only available on the farm; securely out of the farm gate, without burdening the farmer with administrative work and respecting their data privacy rights. Part of the solution is to leverage existing solution providers, such as GS1, and enable them to easily absorb more data directly from the farm. This is, of course, reliant on farms adopting digital data management practices. When farms capture data via Farm Management Software (FMS), it offers the potential for existing systems to integrate and access this data using secure APIs. This modern way of data sharing can enable the farm to grant permission to their data to only its trusted supply chain players. 

Spain’s initiative in 2024 to promote digital reporting by 800,000 farms is a national attempt to solve this challenge. The SIEX project for Spanish farmers aspires to securely manage farm level data and make it reusable to relevant players in the industry in a way that secures the farm’s privacy rights. 

Finally, we have to expect to communicate data relating to the environmental footprint of the food we produce. This makes data on chemical and nutrient applications to crops fundamental to the message being passed along the supply chain. If we can successfully overcome this challenge, players across the supply chain will benefit from farm-level data in its understanding of not just quantities and qualities of food products but also specific compliance requirements regarding how the crops were managed. Ultimately, it will offer the opportunity for consumers to be the recipient of data beyond where their food was produced and how their food was produced.

How can you support improved traceability in the supply chain?

Farming exists in every country on Earth (the only known exceptions are Monaco and Vatican City). In the coming years, we can expect more countries to take measures as we are seeing in agricultural giants such as Spain. In Europe, there are already signs that Switzerland and Austria are quickly following suit; each with their own respective projects that parallel SIEX in Spain.  However, you don’t need to wait for your Department of Agriculture to mandate change before you can prepare your farm for improved supply chain traceability.

If you work on a farm: 

  • Standardize your data in preparation for compliance requirements in areas such as crop treatment applications 
  • Find a FMS (Farm Management Software) that allows you to manage data on fields, crops, harvest, and crop applications in a simple way
  • Review global standards such as GlobalG.A.P’s Harmonized Produce Safety Standards for ideas on how to prepare for future compliance requirements that will drive data management changes on your farm.

 

If you work downstream of the supply chain: 

The International Fresh Produce Association is hosting webinars of best practices for traceability for different stakeholders along the food supply chain.

The global food supply chain will need to transform itself to use standardized data for more than just what food is produced and where it came from.  Data related to how crops are treated in the field will soon need to be managed across this network of stakeholders. To do this securely without overwhelming the farmer;  digital data management on the farm and, subsequently, digital compliance reporting will need to become commonplace. 

About Farmable:

Farmable is a leading provider of farm management software that empowers farmers to efficiently manage their agricultural operations while ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. Farmable integrates with CUE in Spain and aspires to be part of the global agricultural digital transformation. You can download the Farmable App in 10 different languages and start managing your farm data with our free, user-friendly tool. 

If you’d like to learn more about the change process in Spanish agriculture, you can check out the latest article here: 800,000 Farm are Going Digital in 2024