Data as a strategic asset: industry collection

Gareth Lash, chair of Trev, shares his views on the drivers for industry data collection and use. Gareth has a wealth of industry experience across the food production and supply chain spectrum with a career that's been built on an appreciation and understanding of quality data. At its most demanding, Gareth led a team responsible for optimising Fonterra’s 18 billion litres of annual milk flow requiring rapid, accurate and relevant data reporting.

"Today consumers are demanding products that are genuinely sustainable, healthy, and validated by auditable data trails that withstand global scrutiny.

The collection and processing of farm data plays an important role in the primary industry's efforts to produce food and fibre that resonate with customers."

- Gareth Lash

Government or council backed compliance requirements are driving on farm data collection needs. But another key driver is the demand by processors for validated, recorded and auditable information on a supplying farm’s sustainability, health & safety, and animal welfare credentials. 

More and more processors are requiring such information from their farm suppliers, reflecting the demands they in turn are facing from their large multinational food customers. Having proof on aspects like carbon emissions or nutrient footprints have become the “ticket to the game” for primary producers wanting to supply global customers. 

At an industry level, nutrient loss and GHG emission targets have been set. He Waka Eke Noa is in the process of setting an industry mechanism for GHG measurement and pricing. This is in turn requiring individual farm data on emissions from all pastoral farms by late 2022. Tools to measure and record emissions are now part of the compliance kit every farm will require.

Carbon emissions are also a key area processors are seeking supply chain compliance on. Giant food company Mars has recently pledged to link executive pay to lower GHG emissions, eliminate deforestation from supply chain sources, and challenged 20,000 suppliers to take climate action and set “meaningful” targets. 

Dairying in particular is a major protein input for many large food processors who are scrutinising GHG emissions and animal welfare practices closely in the sector.

Collecting data has moved beyond a simple government-council compliance requirement to a “right to supply” condition, one that reflects corporations’ response to customer demands about sustainability and welfare. 

For some processors seeking to go above and beyond regulatory standards, premium supplier status is afforded to those farm businesses capable of capturing data to prove they are operating at an even higher standard. Whether it be Fonterra’s Co-operative Difference programme, Miraka’s Te ara Miraka, or Synlait’s Lead with Pride, all take a “next level” approach to operating standards. Such schemes validate these processors as “gold standard” suppliers to larger global customers who in theory pay a premium that can be passed on by local processors to farmer suppliers meeting that higher standard.

Check out part two of this series.

Data is rapidly becoming a strategic asset for farmers to add to their conventional portfolio of land, capital, livestock and labour to lift farm productivity. 

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