• Tim Hammerich

Blockchain and IoT (Internet of Tomatoes)

What do you look for in a tomato?

Sweetness? Texture? Color? Size? Variety? Perhaps the narrative of how it was grown? How it was ripened? Where it came from? What inputs were used? Who grew it? How nutritional it is?

Likely you nodded “yes” to at least a couple of these questions. And this barely scratches the surface on the factors that go into what various people prefer about an ingredient as simple as a tomato.

In a world of options and varying opinions, we have a long way to go towards optimizing for these types of preferences. In the past we’ve been able to develop genetics that have allowed for tomatoes to be better suited for various factors. There are classes of seed varieties developed just for processing tomatoes, and several other varieties for the tomatoes that you would find in your local produce isle.

However, there is more we can do in addition to genetics to optimize for preference when it comes to agricultural produce such as tomatoes.

The combination of the ability to collect more data and store it in a trustworthy place (like on the blockchain), allows for restaurants, grocery stores, and other food suppliers to better optimize to consumer preferences.

Ripe.io is a leading startup in this space. Their website sums up what they do as “enabling data transparency from farm to fork to answer what our food is, where it has been and what has happened to it.”

As Raja explains, in one of the pilot projects they actually collected data on every single tomato produced from a particular grower, and was able to share that information with the restaurant purchaser.

This example doesn’t necessarily require blockchain because you were dealing with two parties that already trusted each other and could have shared data on a spreadsheet. However, it’s a great pilot of what’s possible when you consider the fact that a restaurant buys from a multitude of growers/suppliers who also sell to numerous other restaurants/customers. When you roll this technology out to all participants in this supply chain, it becomes extremely beneficial.

Blockchain creates a sort of “data fabric” so that the restaurant can identify those qualities of the tomatoes that meets their needs and the preferences of their customers. Then they can work with the producers to identify both the varieties and conditions that optimize for those preferences.

In the past, options were limited to choosing a variety that had the best overall factors as well as some basic growing methods (field vs greenhouse vs hydroponic, etc.).

Now sensors that monitor everything from sunlight to temperature to humidity to color and beyond give us an abundant amount of information, even down to the individual tomato. This ability to collect and interconnect data via the internet is commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Or in this case, the Internet of Tomatoes.

This is a great example of how technologies that are developing simultaneously (IoT & blockchain) can be used together for the more rapid advancement of both.

Many times when we explain blockchain we describe it as a distributed ledger that nobody can change. This is a true definition, however it creates this false picture of someone having to physically make entries to the ledger for every time a field is irrigated, a pallet is moved, etc. In reality, most of these entries can be made automatically through sensor technology that is connected to the blockchain via the Internet of Things.

When you look at it this way, it’s incredible to think about the potential for data that is collected in every step of the farm process and how that can be used for everything that we’ve been discussing (see this post, this one, and this one).

Blockchain still has a long way to go in agricultural supply chains. There are still many important questions to answer (What will people do with all of this data? Where is the value captured? Who owns the data?). However, the possibilities are fascinating, and Raja does a fantastic job of articulating his vision for Ripe.io.