Is it time for fresh produce to leverage big data?


The world’s most established accounting and bookkeeping practices were made by the farming industry. Even our modern arithmetic systems were created to solve problems farmers were facing.

Today though, the fresh produce industry no longer at the cutting edge of financial analysis and forecasting. Many farms are still operating off spreadsheets and even pen and paper. They have done so for years, so why would they consider changing now?

With new pressures facing the fresh produce industry, profit margins are being squeezed and retail requirements are making business far more volatile. It’s not helped by the fact that buyers/retailers are using the full flex of their buying power, really straining growers, packers and pickers for their resources and profits. It all means that mistakes can be costly, which makes anything that provides stability key.

In this article, we’re going to look at the ways fresh produce businesses can leverage data and insights to improve their operations. With greater insights, projects to improve operating efficiency, reduce errors and grow profit margins can be a roaring success.



Is better business intel the answer?

Data is the key to making good decisions in every walk of life. In business, in your personal life, you rely upon stats, knowledge and your own experiences to make a call. When you don’t have enough knowledge or data, it can feel like you’re taking a shot in the dark. It doesn’t need to be this way.

Fortunately, fresh produce companies naturally create lots of data. There’s limitless potential to capture more data and derive value from it. There’s data to be found in:

  • Product costings
  • Product attributes, classifications and yields
  • First-party and third-party inventories
  • Deliveries and accepted quantities
  • Cost on delivery
  • Budgets and forecasts
  • Category management
  • Compliance and issue/cases
  • Traceability
  • Produce grading
  • Live factory performance
  • And much, much more…

If you consider where this information lives within your organisation, it may be within separate systems, in spreadsheets, or even pen and paper. Without a centralised and systemised method to share and use this data, it’s value cannot be used.

Initiatives such as the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, machine learning, analytics and real-time reporting can provide enormous value to a fresh produce business. But how does this work in reality? And is it just a utopian vision of the business?


Planting the seeds

Fresh produce businesses are actually already beginning to make the most from big data and real-time analytics.

JCS Family Farms, a 5th generation family corn and soybean farm based in Iowa, used to rely on legal pads and spreadsheets to keep track of data.

“We had six people who had six separate lists. It was impossible to get accurate information when we worked off so many different silos of information. It was so frustrating knowing we generated all of this data, yet we questioned its validity.” Rob Sladek told SuccessfulFarming.

The lack of systematic data created a culture with a lack of confidence and conviction in it’s decision making. It wasn’t until they began systemising data that it began to give senior management a clear picture on their route to growth – in going from 150 fields to 750.



The benefits of big data for fresh produce

You do not need to be a highly sophisticated technology-focused company to begin collecting data. In fact, fresh produce businesses naturally generate a lot of it.

You do not need to be a highly sophisticated fresh produce business to make the most of big data. In fact, your business probably already generates more than you think. Information on any of the following could help you get a crystal clear and ‘live’ picture of how your business is performing. Knowledge is power!

  • Wastage.
  • Yields. What conditions are providing the best yields?
  • Profitability.
  • Consignments.
  • Operational performance.
  • Product costings.
  • Deliveries.

There’s nothing stopping you from only using your own internal data. There’s plenty of organisations which generate incredibly insightful data when paired with yours. For example, Microsoft Dynamics 365 partners with AccuWeather, which can help you understand just how the weather impacts your bottom line.

With the power of big data, you can spot the route to future success and profitability. Using this information, you can more powerfully produce forecasts that produce real, meaningful insights for your business on a day-to-day basis.

We understand that this can sound a bit utopian. But in reality, there are solutions out there which can allow your business to become a smart one.


How can you start using big data?

There are plenty of ways to start processing more valuable data within your organisation. The greatest benefits come from platforms which allow you to systemise data collection. If you can do this within a centre hub, where all data is visible and you can create an operations dashboard, then all the better!

In our experience, enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages are the best option for fresh produce businesses. They allow you to automate data collection and unify each operating ‘silo’ within your business. That means no more spreadsheets, legal pads, sticky notes or knowledge that’s only kept to one person. Your business can be dynamic, scalable and more transparent as you plot your path to growth.



LINKFRESH is the world’s leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution provider for fresh produce. We specialise in helping growers, packers and shippers to automate, unify and transform their businesses. We’ve been in the business for more than 20 years, with fresh produce experts working around the world.

We’re also a Microsoft Dynamics Gold Partner, making our solutions entirely future proofed. There’s no need to ever consider another ERP system.

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