Farm Traceability is critical and it has never been easier

Updated: Aug 25

Health issues are foremost in our minds today. When discussing food safety, one topic that comes up frequently is traceability. This refers to the ability to track produce through all steps of the supply, production, and distribution process; from seed lots to dinner tables. Admittedly, this can sound like quite a bit of paperwork.

Today we’ll walk through the basics of a traceability process and see that it's easy to incorporate into your farm operation.

Benefits of Traceability

Without accurate record keeping, claims that produce is local or organic or otherwise are just that; claims. Traceability means you can provide customers with evidence that supports and documents these claims. This evidence can also open doors to new markets.

Traceability can increase customer confidence and enhance your brand’s reputation. Improved inventory accuracy – brought about by traceability efforts – can also reduce spoilage and shrinkage.

However, the primary benefits of traceability become apparent when a food-borne illness (or other type of concern) occurs. Accurate record keeping can help facilitate efficient (and less costly) recalls, minimize the impact of contaminated produce, and settle complaints and questions. Good records can also facilitate getting back in business sooner after a recall – particularly when you can demonstrate that your lots were not part of the recall.

Internal and External Traceability

To implement traceability, farmers need to track both internally and externally. Internally refers to where and how produce is grown on the farm. This includes information like the crop name and variety, the specific block or field, treatments, harvest dates, harvest crew, and more.

External traceability requires tracking both one step back (your suppliers) and one step forward (your buyers). Tracking suppliers means recording things like lot numbers from seeds and all other inputs. Tracking buyers can be done through your invoicing. If you sell directly to consumers, tracking may take the form of maintaining a customer mailing list.

Using Lot Codes

Traceability is accomplished by using unique codes associated with individual lots of produce. While the code can be any combination of numbers, letters, and colors, codes can be created in such a way that you can ascertain certain facts at a glance. These could include the crop and variety name, field or block, and harvest and packing dates. Using Julian dates (numbering 1 to 365) rather than months and days can save space and make details less obvious to casual observers.

Your lot code could also include information about your spray records, soil amendment applications, harvest and packing crews, packinghouse details, and more. This article from the Virginia Cooperative Extension discusses one lot code approach in detail.

These codes need to be associated with each lot, often by use of stickers or stamps. Farmbrite makes it easy to print out QR codes that can link to all of this information and can be accessed anywhere using a smartphone. Printing these codes to adhesive-backed paper makes it easy to post this information on containers and in the field.

Again, no matter what code you use, each lot must have a unique code, and every container leaving your farm should bear that code.