Pilot brings eGrain Passport a step closer

A pilot electronic grain passport trial has been generally well received by all stages of the supply chain involved. The results of the 18-month pilot project now go out for wider industry consultation, but assuming a green light, it is likely to take a further 2-3 years before it is fully adopted.

The pilot eGrain Passport project, funded by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, involved milling wheat supplied to Heygates and malting barley purchased by Muntons through Fengrain, Gleadell Agriculture, Glencore Grain and Openfield plus a cross section of associated hauliers and growers. The system, based on smartphone technology and the internet, covered 199 live loads during the 12-month pilot period in 2014 and 2015.

 

Advantages of the electronic system would include automated real-time assurance scheme checks and a two-way data flow. This would enable passport data to be sent to processors in advance of delivery, with the load weight and grain quality data transmitted back to merchants, hauliers and farmers after the delivery. A universal platform could save duplication across different systems, while having the flexibility to accommodate future industry data requirements. The aggregated data, subject to appropriate security controls, could be used for the whole industry’s benefit.

The AHDB report into the pilot study estimates a 3:1 return on investment over a ten year period through implementing the eGrain Passport to replace the current paper-based system.

However, there are important issues to resolve. These include funding of the scheme and ownership of its data; security of the data; and the cost, complexity and security issues of integrating the eGrain Passport with existing company electronic platforms. There are also concerns over the ability to embrace computer and smartphone technology across the supply chain; the availability of rural broadband and mobile data signals (although the system does not require a signal at the collection point) and the agility of the system to cope with industry complexity and the degree of last-minute changes.

The consultation is open until September 16th, with responses to be made through the appropriate trade association. A meeting of the AHDB’s Cereals Liaison Committee in the late autumn will consider the report and its responses and reach a consensus on whether to move the project forward.

AIC head of policy Paul Rooke says there would inevitably be teething problems and some short term cost from the eGrain Passport, but the promise of long term benefit. He envisages it would be 2-3 years before the system is fully implemented, with a phased rollout into the industry. He points out that some livestock movement systems have already successfully moved from paper records to online recording.

Pilot Scheme participants are supportive. George Mason, senior executive at Heygates, observes: “We can see only positives from the introduction of the new passport system: the ability for greater information transfer, real-time checking of the assurance status of the participants, an elimination of the time spent on querying passports on the day of delivery and in the filing or archiving of accepted load paperwork.” Muntons grain administrator Flick Bloomfield adds: “It has been good to be involved in the pilot version of the eGrain Passport, giving us the opportunity to identify problems from the very beginning. As a user of the system I think it will be great to get on board with this if it is to be approved, as traceability is simpler and an improvement compared with the paper trail we currently use.”

An Openfield spokesman notes that although the current paper system is not ‘broken’, a new electronic system could help meet existing shortcomings and enable the industry to respond to changing future demands.

“It will be a collective industry decision whether to adopt an electronic passport system or not, based on the findings from the pilot,” concludes AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds head of marketing Roz Reynolds. “However, the pilot did show potential benefits for the industry as a whole.”

The 66 page eGrain Passport Pilot Project Final Report is available via: http://cereals.ahdb.org.uk/egrainpilot