Industries beyond the tech world are utilizing data and technology more and more these days to improve efficiency, find solutions to problems, and create new opportunities for greater transparency and innovation. The agricultural and food sectors utilize data and digitalization as a means for improvement, but few have used blockchain, the digital ledger technology that enables cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to pass from hand to hand.
Enter Merge Impact, which bills itself as the first and only blockchain-powered agricultural measurement and data solution to help farmers, food manufacturers, and brands better understand the impact of their practices and purchases down to the field level.
Merge Impact co-founders Ben Adolph and Beth Robertson-Martin both come from agricultural backgrounds. But they have professional perspectives from different sides of the industry — Adolph in soil health and fertilizer sales and Robertson-Martin in commodity sourcing, most recently for General Mills.
Each realized the limitations of their respective fields and set out to solve them with their new agri-tech company powered by blockchain. "I had a thesis that there are lots of food companies that actually need regenerative supply chain problems solved," Robertson-Martin explained.
"We saw an opportunity to connect the climate impacts at the farm level and bring value to food companies," Adolph added. "She has the solutions from the brand side. I have them from the farm side.”
Using data as a means of analyzing and improving systems is commonplace in the modern digital age, but blockchain takes these processes one step further. “I think about blockchain as a tool in the toolbox, but it's one that makes things quicker and easier for us. Blockchain really helps prevent data corruption and data loss,” Robertston-Martin said.
Merge Impact’s use of blockchain allows it to serve as a software solution for transparent supply chains, as raw materials are digitally logged from the field to the customer and everywhere in between. This type of information is increasingly crucial as companies aim to provide their clients with transparent, accurate and easily accessible data.
Major food manufacturing companies have made public commitments to regenerative sourcing worth trillions of dollars. But many of these commitments have been based upon dubious data, resulting in shaky and unsubstantiated sustainability action plans.
As a company that operates on the integrity and security of data, Merge Impact remains a neutral party in the collection of information on its platform. Third-party partners like EarthOptics — which specializes in soil data measurement, including how much carbon is being stored by the soil — allow the company to provide more detailed information to clients while remaining impartial.
Merge Impact’s use of third-party data collection and blockchain technology allows food companies to understand the impact of their supply chains and make reliable claims about their products. In turn, customers can rely upon these claims to make better choices about the products they support.
From the farmer’s perspective, data platforms like Merge Impact’s make it easier for brands to find and connect with organic and regenerative farmers. It also helps farmers advocate for their services as a premium, as brands see how sustainable practices translate into improved soil health metrics like carbon storage and water retention.
Merge Impact also ensures that farmers can retain ownership of their data, which can be shared, transferred or monetized at their discretion.
“What blockchain allows us to do at the farm level is monetize data for farmers," Adolph said. "We never claim ownership of data. If you go into any other ag-tech platform, when data comes into that platform, that's the platform's data. But in our case, the producer creates the data, and that producer ultimately owns all the data. It is truly the only system where the producer has an account in the product."
More simply, Merge Impact serves to simply facilitate the movement of data, while giving the producers and brands total ownership of the data that the company and its partners help to collect and store.
Merge Impact data has shown to be effective in helping companies to measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions. It also serves to inform other key indicators of mission-based food systems, such as biodiversity and water usage.
“If it can be measured, we can measure it and we can track it," Robertson-Martin said. "Not only will you know where your oats came from, you'll know where your carbon, your biodiversity, your pollinator habitat metrics came from down to the field level, down to the subfield level. We make it really easy to get to that level of granularity."
With producer and brand ownership of their own data, coupled with the security and integrity of blockchain technology, Merge Impact’s platform serves as an end-to-end solution for traceable supply chains for regenerative, organic, and any other kind of mission-based food systems.
“Ultimately, Merge Impact uses blockchain to turn ag-tech into a solution for the industry and not just a product for the industry,” Adolph said.
Image credits: PHÚC LONG and Marc Kleen via Unsplash
L. Blaine Fulmer is a freelance writer focused on sustainability communications, policy and stakeholder engagement.