Wyoming’s agriculture industry is trying its hand at blockchain technology. Beefchain.io, a private company, is one of those businesses that started after Wyoming passed a number of pro-blockchain laws. The goal is to use blockchain technology to track data points about cattle and share the information with consumers: pasture to plate.
Bonita Carlson grew up on a ranch just south of Sundance. She remembers a time her mom was gone and she helped out with the laundry. Along with her clothes, she threw in some of her dad’s shirts.
“When I opened the washing machines and saw all of his records from the whole year of that calf crop…destroyed in the washing machines,” said Carlson.
She had thrown in her dad’s record book and all the information on their cattle was destroyed. For Carlson, this is a perfect example of why it’s important to merge the old heritage of the agriculture industry with new technology. Blockchain acts as a digital ledger that cannot be altered. It would’ve kept all of her father’s records intact. But it goes beyond that, it gives producers the opportunity to be more intimate with the consumer.
“When you talk about the idea of people wanting to know where their food comes from and how their food was handled, when it was still afoot; blockchain, absolutely, is an excellent opportunity,” said Carlson.
With blockchain, the data from a rancher’s record book will be available for anyone to see. This means Wyoming ranchers can brand Wyoming beef as something superior and possibly charge more for it because it keeps the data on how Wyoming cattle live.
“Here in Wyoming, you know, the cattle are out in big open pastures and they eat grass that is available, there's plenty of it,” said Carlson. “And they drink water as it falls from the skies into the reservoirs. We don't have cattle in small lots of cows. Out here, our cows are treated like…cows.”
Up until now, these data points have been lost in the supply chain. Carlson and her fiancé, Drew Persson, just tagged 250 steer calves at their ranch, north of Gillette. The Persson Ranch along with five other family-owned ranches in the state have partnered with Beefchain.io. Steve Lupien is the Chief Operating Officer.
“What we’re looking to do,” said Steve Lupien, the Chief Operating Officer for Beefchain. “Which is maintain the provenance of certified Wyoming beef from pasture until it reaches either the restaurant or the retail refrigerator case.”
Lupien said ranchers are losing value once cattle are sold since they have no control of what happens after they sell their cattle.
“If you’re taking Wyoming cattle and your shipping them to a neighboring state to get processed, then the cattle are getting mixed together. And the Wyoming ranchers are not going to get the benefit of having Wyoming certified beef.”
But blockchain doesn’t let the cattle get lost in the supply chain. The tag stays with the animal so that the consumer can scan a code and see all the information. Ogden Driskill is a senator and rancher who will be using Beefchain. He said just by being transparent and showing data points, like no antibiotics or vaccines, opens a whole new market because many countries outside the U.S. are looking for untainted meat products.
“Beefchain opens up overseas markets that we really don't have access to now,” said Driskill. “We’re already moving. We’re in the process of dealing with three different foreign countries.”
Driskill said the idea is to enhance the agriculture industry in Wyoming, which could add millions of dollars to the state.
“The very ultimate goal is to come up with a mid-size packing plant so that a lot Wyoming beef actually gets packaged and shipped out of Wyoming with a Wyoming label on it.”
The international market may be the first to be interested in blockchain beef but BeefChain CEO Rob Jennings sees it circling right back home.
“We would like to develop domestic markets that would be interested in a tracked provenance beef, particularly using protocols that I think might appeal back to the New York hipster; something that has less of a carbon footprint, something that is grass-fed,” said Jennings.
And this drives the idea straight home for Bonita Carlson.
“This is the opportunity to take what the producer has for the consumer and really get the word out there and so then the consumer can make an informed decision of what they're feeding their family.”
Eventually, if everything works out, sometime in the near future you can go to the grocery store, pick up a package of beef, scan a code and find out that it came from the Persson Ranch.
A previous version of this story said, "Currently, there’s no USDA processing plant in Wyoming." In fact, there is one USDA processing plant in Wyoming.