LITTLE ROCK – A roomful of business leaders gathered at Mosaic Templars in Little Rock this week to explore the possibilities of a new technology that is changing the way the world does business.
The technology is called blockchain. It is a system that can record and track data in an immutable ledger for government and business – from the mining and sale of diamonds to property records to medical records and almost any other product or service you can name.
In Arkansas, we are studying the potential for blockchain in agriculture. The technology can track a crop from the moment it’s planted to the moment someone eats it – from farm to table.
The recent case of E. coli that killed five people and made dozens of people sick eventually was traced to romaine lettuce that was grown in Yuma, Arizona. The search took days, a delay in which even more people ate contaminated lettuce. But even after investigators discovered the source, they couldn’t identify the farm that shipped the contaminated lettuce.
If the data had been stored in a blockchain, the Centers for Disease Control could have discovered the source in a matter of seconds. That would have reduced the number of people sickened and possibly saved lives.
This is a significant technology for Arkansas, where agriculture is our Number 1 industry. We ship food all over the world, and blockchain technology would allow consumers to develop a higher degree of trust in the crops we export.
Tim and Robin Ralston, who were among those who attended the workshop on Wednesday, see blockchain as a obvious step in the future of agriculture. Their family, which came from Scotland, has worked the land for ten generations.
The Ralstons already track their rice from the field to your fork. At Ralston Family Farm in Atkins, they grow, harvest, mill and package their rice, documenting it at every stop on paper and with computers. Their attention to these details makes blockchain technology a logical progression.
The benefits of blockchain to Arkansas farmers and to agriculture generally are immense. Anytime you can move record keeping from paper and pencil and ledger to digital, you have improved efficiency.
If Arkansas is going to lead the way with blockchain in the food-security industry, we must upgrade our rural broadband service, which is essential for our farmers and rural communities.
Blockchain is another key to growing the technology part of our economy and providing great jobs for Arkansans. I am grateful to IBM for participating in the summit on Wednesday, and I am eager to see how blockchain will add to our future.