Bringing Blockchain to Livestock Production

Bringing Blockchain to Livestock Production

Originally posted by: Nebraska Farmer
Wrote by: Tyler Harris
Lukas Fricke (right), with Matt Bergmeyer at SmallData Tech showing their new innovation
TECH READY: Lukas Fricke (right), with Matt Bergmeyer at SmallData Tech, will be launching ChorChek. The technology is designed to be customizable for different levels of use.

By now, most people have heard of blockchain technology in some form or another — most likely relating to Bitcoin. However, this technology isn’t limited to cryptocurrency. Agriculture has already seen the technology put to work in the commodities trading and precision ag data management spheres.

Working with an ag tech startup in a small office building in Waverly, one Nebraska pork producer has developed a tool that uses blockchain to help livestock producers keep records in a simplified, secure way.

By now, most people have heard of blockchain technology in some form or another — most likely relating to Bitcoin. However, this technology isn’t limited to cryptocurrency. Agriculture has already seen the technology put to work in the commodities trading and precision ag data management spheres.

Working with an ag tech startup in a small office building in Waverly, one Nebraska pork producer has developed a tool that uses blockchain to help livestock producers keep records in a simplified, secure way.

The idea for the technology, ChorChek, came to Lukas Fricke after hearing fellow pork producers talk about the challenges related to record keeping. Fricke, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015 before returning to the family farm near Ulysses, also dealt with those challenges, and saw an opportunity to simplify the process and improve transparency in livestock production.

“As U.S. pork producers, we’re viewed as shining beacons. We have a safe food supply, and we back that up. However, there’s more pressure to be transparent,” Fricke says. “We used to raise pigs in open lots and still kept records on paper back then. Now we have automated feeders [and] a controlled environment. But how are we keeping records? I think it’s time for an upgrade.”

“Everything comes down to paperwork. It seems we spend at least 10% of our time doing paperwork, if not more,” Fricke says. “That’s where this project started off — keeping track of who’s in the barn and antibiotic use and information. Now it’s grown to how we’re going to market that information.”

By now, most people have heard of blockchain technology in some form or another — most likely relating to Bitcoin. However, this technology isn’t limited to cryptocurrency. Agriculture has already seen the technology put to work in the commodities trading and precision ag data management spheres.

Working with an ag tech startup in a small office building in Waverly, one Nebraska pork producer has developed a tool that uses blockchain to help livestock producers keep records in a simplified, secure way.

 The idea for the technology, ChorChek, came to Lukas Fricke after hearing fellow pork producers talk about the challenges related to record keeping. Fricke, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015 before returning to the family farm near Ulysses, also dealt with those challenges, and saw an opportunity to simplify the process and improve transparency in livestock production.

“As U.S. pork producers, we’re viewed as shining beacons. We have a safe food supply, and we back that up. However, there’s more pressure to be transparent,” Fricke says. “We used to raise pigs in open lots and still kept records on paper back then. Now we have automated feeders [and] a controlled environment. But how are we keeping records? I think it’s time for an upgrade.”

“Everything comes down to paperwork. It seems we spend at least 10% of our time doing paperwork, if not more,” Fricke says. “That’s where this project started off — keeping track of who’s in the barn and antibiotic use and information. Now it’s grown to how we’re going to market that information.

It was Fricke’s participation in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Engler Entrepreneurship Program that helped bring his plan to fruition.

Neil Johnson, CEO of Phoenix Web Group, was an Engler Mentor, and over the last three years Fricke has worked with Phoenix to design the software platform. Last fall, SmallData Tech was created to manufacture sensors and maintain the data transmission network for various services and organizations. This spring, Fricke is launching ChorChek for commercial use.

Simple and secure
Through blockchain, subscribers can keep digital records in a simplified, secure way, Fricke says.

CHORE CHECKLIST: Producers can use the ChorChek app (pictured) for basic daily functions like checking in, signing the visitor’s log, keeping records and making sure chores are completed

 

But what exactly is blockchain? Blockchain is named for a chain of blocks. New transactions in the blockchain, or new blocks, are created using information from previous blocks. Once added to the blockchain, data can’t be changed or deleted without other users knowing.

“There are major transactions that occur in the system, specifically when pigs move up the scale from nursery to wean-to-finish barn to the processor,” Johnson says. “Each of those transactions are recorded, and those time and date stamps are recorded and put on the blockchain.”

“The advantage is when data changes hands, it doesn’t turn into a bad game of telephone,” adds Matt Bergmeyer, chief operating officer at SmallData Tech. “This technology puts the person at the end of the chain directly in the ear as the first person, so there is no delineation on what’s being said.”

VISITOR’S LOG: The universal visitor’s log helps keep track of where visitors came from and where they are going to track the spread of disease.

 

By now, most people have heard of blockchain technology in some form or another — most likely relating to Bitcoin. However, this technology isn’t limited to cryptocurrency. Agriculture has already seen the technology put to work in the commodities trading and precision ag data management spheres.

Working with an ag tech startup in a small office building in Waverly, one Nebraska pork producer has developed a tool that uses blockchain to help livestock producers keep records in a simplified, secure way.

 The idea for the technology, ChorChek, came to Lukas Fricke after hearing fellow pork producers talk about the challenges related to record keeping. Fricke, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015 before returning to the family farm near Ulysses, also dealt with those challenges, and saw an opportunity to simplify the process and improve transparency in livestock production.

“As U.S. pork producers, we’re viewed as shining beacons. We have a safe food supply, and we back that up. However, there’s more pressure to be transparent,” Fricke says. “We used to raise pigs in open lots and still kept records on paper back then. Now we have automated feeders [and] a controlled environment. But how are we keeping records? I think it’s time for an upgrade.”

“Everything comes down to paperwork. It seems we spend at least 10% of our time doing paperwork, if not more,” Fricke says. “That’s where this project started off — keeping track of who’s in the barn and antibiotic use and information. Now it’s grown to how we’re going to market that information.”

It was Fricke’s participation in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Engler Entrepreneurship Program that helped bring his plan to fruition.

Neil Johnson, CEO of Phoenix Web Group, was an Engler Mentor, and over the last three years Fricke has worked with Phoenix to design the software platform. Last fall, SmallData Tech was created to manufacture sensors and maintain the data transmission network for various services and organizations. This spring, Fricke is launching ChorChek for commercial use.

Simple and secure
Through blockchain, subscribers can keep digital records in a simplified, secure way, Fricke says.

But what exactly is blockchain? Blockchain is named for a chain of blocks. New transactions in the blockchain, or new blocks, are created using information from previous blocks. Once added to the blockchain, data can’t be changed or deleted without other users knowing.

“There are major transactions that occur in the system, specifically when pigs move up the scale from nursery to wean-to-finish barn to the processor,” Johnson says. “Each of those transactions are recorded, and those time and date stamps are recorded and put on the blockchain.”

“The advantage is when data changes hands, it doesn’t turn into a bad game of telephone,” adds Matt Bergmeyer, chief operating officer at SmallData Tech. “This technology puts the person at the end of the chain directly in the ear as the first person, so there is no delineation on what’s being said.”

To run ChorChek, a barn node (a specified location time-based stamp device) must be connected to a device called a barn hub. The barn hub, similar to a Wi-Fi router, is a centralized control unit that collects all of the data from the barn.

For example, when the employee gets within a certain radius of the barn, the barn hub automatically knows the employee is there. The idea is to place the barn node on the opposite end of the barn from the entrance, so when employees push the button, it not only proves they were inside the barn, but also walked past all of the animals to push the time stamp.

Subscribers will have an encryption key embedded into the system they use for their smartphone. This embedded encryption key ensures only certain users can access the data in the blockchain, and makes it easier to recognize employees where they are in proximity to the barn hub.

The program uses a publicly held, open-sourced radio frequency to transmit information without the need of a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. The network connects different barn hub devices to a central server in Waverly. From there, users can connect to the encrypted cloud server to access their information. The system has five layers of encryption, and requires two-way authentication by both the producer and the person they’re sharing the information with.

Users can log on to the ChorChek website to set up parameters for chores and barns, and the ChorChek app for basic daily functions like checking in, signing the visitor’s log and keeping records.

In addition to keeping track of chores, this gives farm managers a tool to keep and share records digitally. For example, the universal visitor’s log lets the user keep track of where visitors come from and where they are going to track the spread of diseases like foot-and-mouth disease, and whether visitors were recently in contact with other animals in an area where an outbreak may have taken place. It also provides a way to keep track of any antibiotic treatments those animals received.

“If I’m selling pigs, the buyer wants to know about health issues, where the pigs came from, antibiotic treatments they’ve received. I could write it all down, text it to him, but wouldn’t it be easier to have a producer number and log in and check?” Fricke asks. “Now we have a road map of pigs across the U.S.”

Looking ahead
While tech-savvy early-adopters will most likely be the first to jump on board this technology, Bergmeyer notes ChorChek can be customized to suit different uses based on the information and function the producer wants. Growers can use ChorChek for the basics of using the barn node and Hub, or they can use it for more detailed data sharing and record keeping.

“One of the objectives for Lukas was to tailor the project so that the 25-, 45- and 65-year-old farmer can all use it, because they all have different skill sets,” Bergmeyer says. “Ultimately, there’s a solution here for each of them.”

In the future, Fricke hopes the barn hub will be able to connect to an assortment of sensors to monitor different components of a livestock barn.

The biggest benefit, however, will come as pressures mount for retailers, processors, and farmers and ranchers to provide more transparency on how food is raised. And, Fricke notes, it helps U.S. meat producers back up the quality of their product to export markets.

“Long term, I think it’s the goal of people to understand where their food is coming from. I’d like for people to be able to interact with their product like never before,” Fricke says. “That’s hopefully the future of the product to enhance that farm-to-table experience. And increase animal health; create a better, more secure supply chain from farm to packinghouse; and identify potential problems in the industry.”

To learn more, visit the soon-to-be-launched ChorChek.com, or contact Fricke at lukasf@chorchek.com.