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Response to USAID Request for Public Comments

 USAID’s Bureau for Resilience, Environment and Food Security (REFS) is seeking feedback, information, and recommendations on approaches to transform local

food processing so as to increase access to, and affordability of,

safe and nutritious foods for women and children.


Response to USAID Request for Public Comments

By Agtools Inc.

Martha Montoya, CEO

December 5th, 2023


Physical Processes - USAID is focused on the physical processes related to food processing, such as: washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, curing, dehydrating, mixing, packaging of raw agriculture commodities. USAID’s focus is how to make these processes more efficient so as to increase access to, and affordability of, safe and nutritious foods for women and children.

 

Role of Processing Plants – Aside from the minor amounts of produce that growers may share with family and friends, or sell at roadside stands or farmer’s markets, all produce goes through processing plants. Without processing plants, there would be no food in the grocery stores, or on our dinner tables.

 

Farms Across the Countryside – It is common for us to see large fields of corn, wheat, or other grains as we travel down the roadways of the country we are in. Likewise, we might see walnut or avocado orchards on scattered farms across the land. Or, we might see fields of green vegetables or brightly colored fruits as we are driving by. 

 

Processing Plants – What we don’t see are processing plants. There are thousands of processing plants tucked out of sight in rural areas. USDA informs us that there are over 40,000 food processing plants in the United States. There are tens of thousands more processing plants across the world. We don’t see them, so they don’t figure prominently in our minds when we think about how fruits and vegetables get to our grocery stores and dinner tables.

 

What are We Looking At? - Even when our travels occasionally take us by a processing plant, we usually have no idea what we are looking at. What we don’t realize, as we think about how food gets to our grocery stores and dinner tables, is that processing plants are just as important as the farming operations that grow the produce in the first place.

 

Multiplicity of Processes – Processing plants take in raw agricultural commodities and subject them to all of the types of physical processes that USAID calls out in its RFI call for public comments. USAID’s list includes: washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, curing, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state). All processing plants depend on multiple factors of production, including: electricity, water, machinery, labor, and so forth.

 

Plant Managers Semi-Blind – Processing plant managers are subject to vagaries of the marketplace in ways that often affect their plant operations. Supply chain breakdowns, for example, adversely affect the flow of raw commodities to the world’s processing plants. This includes transportation disruptions (by sea or ground), labor disputes, political strife, and so forth. Labor strife and shipping blockages, like the recent supply chain disruptions at the Port of Los Angeles and other ports around the world have a major impact of what products reach the processing plants and actually get processed.

 

Many other variables affect the flow of raw goods into processing plants. For example, while a plant manager may think that a supply of produce is coming to the plant from a particular grower, that grower might change his mind and decide to sell his product to a broker because he can get a better spot price for the product. This reduces the volume of raw commodities coming into the processing plant. This requires adjustments to all of the factors of production and is disruptive to plant operations.

 

Weather affects crop volumes coming into processing plants as well. Excessive heat, for example, in a given growing period, can result in decreased production, significantly affecting the volume of product to be processed at targeted processing plants.

 

Strong winds, such as the Derechos that occasionally demolish corn and grain farms in the mid-west, significantly decrease the quantity of grain flowing into the mid-western plants that process these grains.

 

Excessive rains and flooding can quickly wipe out large volumes of produce. The recent floods in the Salinas Valley that ravaged strawberry crops come to mind. Such events have major adverse impacts on processing plants.



 Hail, frost, and other factors may damage fruit cosmetically (see pictures above) to the point that they cannot be sold as fresh fruit in the produce sections of grocery stores. Some of this fruit can be salvaged, but it requires reconfiguring the plants because they will not be handling fresh fruit, but canned or frozen processed fruit.

 

How Data Can Be Helpful – Processing plant managers tend be somewhat blind to the foregoing examples of issues that affect the flow of raw commodities to their plants because they don’t have access to data. If they had real-time data that could inform them about these disruptions in product flows, they could make quicker and better adjustments to their operations to factor for the ebbs and surges of product coming to their plants.

 

Big Data - Better Information - In recent years, Big Data companies have developed data analytics’ platforms that can give farmers, processors, and all other stakeholders in the food supply chain better and more timely information about what is transpiring in the marketplace. Processing plants are for all food items, as well as, for processing agriculture-related raw materials, such as cotton for clothes, cattle for meat and leather, and so forth.

 

Row Crops - Some of the most notable data providers in the row crop sector include:

 

·       Digital Transmission Network (DTN) uses big data to provide agricultural information and market intelligence to its customers. Using DTN, farmers and commodity traders can access up-to-date weather and pricing data to better manage their businesses.

 

·       InVivo, France’s leading agricultural cooperative, and its subsidiary, SMAG, use big data to empower precision farming by their 220 member farms with 30 years of weather data history, satellite and drone images, and information on soil types.

 

Specialty Crops - Agtools Inc. used big data to develop its data analytics platform that enables specialty crop farmers and stakeholders throughout the food supply chain to make better decisions about their farming operations. Agtools has accumulated over 10 billion records of data on over 500 specialty crops (mostly fruits and vegetables) from growing areas all over the world, spanning a period of the past 29 years.

 

Agtools is the largest collector and most accurate harvester in the world of data on specialty crops. The platform can tell users how much produce is planted and harvested in all growing regions of interest to processing plant managers. This information can assist plant managers in planning for the volumes of raw commodities they can expect to arrive at their plants in a given year.

 

The Agtools Platform can also inform plant managers when there are weather disruptions that will result in less produce flowing to their plants. Access to such data can also inform processing plant managers about supply chain disruptions, labor strife, or political instability that can affect the flow of produce to their plants.

 

Conclusions – Access to data platforms can help processing plant managers understand what is transpiring in agricultural markets in real time. This enables them to better control their operations, keeping a smooth flow of raw commodities coming into their plants, and maintaining operating efficiencies through their factors of production.

 

Access to data can make processing plants more efficient, thereby contributing to USAID’s goal of providing increased access to, and affordability of, safe and nutritious foods for women and children. Access to data is a factor that USAID should take into consideration as it seeks ways to increase processing plant efficiencies. USAID’s efforts should not just be about the physical aspects of plant operations (e.g., washing, sanitizing, cutting, cooking, packaging, freezing, etc.). Access to data is also very important to plant operations and efficiencies.


CONTACT:

Martha Montoya, CEO

Agtools, Inc.

8502 E. Chapman Ave. #137

Orange, CA 92869

 

Stephen Denlinger

Federal Policy Advisor

Agtools, Inc.

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