CBD farmers are flinging themselves at blockchains like pigs at a trough of Yuletide leftovers.
Treum, a ConsenSys funded blockchain software developer, has built an interface in conjunction with Verified Organic, a similar company, that allows farmers to log metadata about their crop yield—the fertiliser being used, the type and variety of seed being planted, and the irrigation technique—and timestamp it to the Ethereum network, allowing auditors to verify that the food has originated where the farmers say it has originated.
The software isn’t another blockchain hypothetical—it’s actually being trialled, at Integrated CBD, an Arizona hemp farm that produces CBD oil and sweeps beneath the Southern sky like a ruddy, sun-beat rug. Since it began three weeks ago, 100 fields have been registered on the app so far, with another five fully planted.
And the farmers themselves, who were involved in the design process, are apparently thrilled.
“It’s extremely user friendly,” said Richard Phelps, the farm manager at Integrated CBD, which enlisted Treum and Verified Organic to design the software. “It’s going to enable us to get away from using Excel spreadsheets.”
Indeed, Phelps puts the exact same information into Treum that he has long put into Excel. But, as supply chains contort themselves further across the globe, consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from: your Romaine lettuce might say Montana on the packaging, but how do you know the leaves weren’t washed in Shanghai and dry-cleaned in Canada?
With a spreadsheet, you have to take the farmers’ word on faith. But Treum provides a timestamp and a geolocation—tied to a specific, pre-selected field—that demonstrates, irrevocably, that the crop was grown where the farmer said it was grown. This data is then transferred, in the form of a single token, to the Ethereum network, where it cannot be overwritten. Customers at the buy-end can then scan a QR code plastered on the product, which will confirm to them the product is legitimate.
It’s not as if Phelps is whipping out his phone after planting each individual seed, either. The process is staggered into batches. First, farmers can set parameters on the app, using the geolocation function to tag certain fields with certain properties: one field might cultivate one particular sort of hemp, for instance. Then, once a field is fully planted, it’s a matter of logging the data into the app.
“The app will say, ‘Are you sure you want to plant this field?” said Phelps. “And you put ‘Yes,’ and it will say, “Congratulations, you’ve planted this field.”
Of course, the farmers could just lie. Just because a product is grown in a hemp field doesn’t mean it’s hemp. A farmer could actually be cultivating marshmallows in that hemp field and outsourcing the growing of the hemp itself to Siberia—yet as long as he logs each new hemp harvest from that field on Treum, the consumers will be fooled.
But that’s the point, said Anoop Agarwal, Treum's senior product manager. Customers can always be swindled, but in this case they can double check the claims against the real world location. “If you planted data saying, ‘I’ve planted X type of hemp on X field, and it’s hashed on the blockchain and available for everyone to see,’ somebody could take that information, go to the farm site tagged and say, ‘Well, I don’t see any hemp here,’” he said.
Now obviously, few consumers will be willing to take a quick detour through Arizona as they peruse the local Walgreens for their next high-voltage CBD fix. But external auditors and certifiers—whose job it is to visit and inspect farms across the country—will have an immutable ledger to check against, which the farmers can’t just meddle with pre-inspection. “It’s making the jobs of certifiers and external auditors easier,” said Agarwal.
But still, after logging the data into Treum, the farmers “transport” the data to Excel, whose centralized interface makes it easier to get a sense of the day-to-day data, “to make decisions from a farming perspective,” said Phelps.
First they put farming on the blockchain, then they put the whole thing on Excel. What a world.