Traceability is defined as the “ability to trace and follow a food, food-producing animal or substance intended to be, or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, throughout all stages of production, processing and distribution.” Defining traceability is easy, but developing systems to satisfy ever-expanding government and international regulations is more complex.
Traceability systems have become an essential tool with regard to food safety — in all forms — in the global marketplace. As food production sees the rise in demand for fully-traceable products — including information on how they are grown, what chemicals were used, how much, and how often — equipment manufacturers are focusing on technology to address this trend.
Existing systems have been shown to be weak at best, if not fully absent, and better solutions are needed to assure consumers of the safety of their food.
Thorough recordkeeping at the farm level is where traceability and quality control begins. To assist farmers in collecting the data, and through a partnership with AGCO Corp., researchers at the Cranfield University in the United Kingdom are working on technology to provide automatic recording systems, reducing the costs of collecting and managing data.
Research and Development. Two research papers from the national Soil Research Institute at Cranfield University explore the feasibility of developing an automatic agrochemical record system for crop sprayers. University researchers presented the results as published during the 9th International Conference on Precision Agriculture in Denver, CO, July 20-23.
“Modern sprayers have the capability of controlling precisely the applications of chemical and produce application maps from the onboard controller,” Sharitz says. “However, there is still a gap in product identification and induction that needs to be done manually — creating a gap in generating automatic records for sprayer inputs.”
The goal for researchers at Cranfield University is to develop a prototype automatic chemical recording system and evaluate the market value and demand for such systems.
The first paper, “Development of an Automatic Agrochemical Recording System for Crop Sprayers,” explains how researchers developed the prototype model. The automatic chemical recording system integrates the identification of chemicals using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, and weighing chemicals within a standard induction hopper. The system will enable automatic identification and measure the chemical according to the specific task file, while creating job records.
“Our researchers have found the automatic recording system is easy to use, more accurate than manual measuring, and performs as fast as the conventional induction method, considering both loading and recording creation time,” says Mark Sharitz, Ag-Chem’s director of marketing.
The second paper, “Measuring Farmer’s Preference for Systems That Improve Agrochemical Traceability,” measured farmers’ reaction to this type of system.
“This part of the experiment aims to identify how each operator judged the automatic chemical recording system attached to the Spra-Coupe. Farmers evaluated the time of filling the hoppers, ease of retrieving the data, accuracy of data gathered, investment costs and benefits of avoiding the use of unregistered chemicals,” Sharitz says.
An evaluation form filled out by a panel of UK farmers indicates that currently 49% of respondents perceive a need for the system, with an emphasis on the prevention of pesticide misapplication. The other two main benefits were increased operator safety and data accuracy.
As research continues on the automated recording system, next steps will include expanding the questionnaire to both farmers who do their own spraying and those who contract spraying application services. Work also continues on engineering the chemical recording hopper that will operate with ISOBUS equipment. The goal is to incorporate existing hardware and software into the new technology.
“We are now looking forward to continuing to participate in the expansion of new technology that will continue to make our line of sprayers the most technologically advanced in the industry,” says Sharitz.