Made-in-Ontario technology simplifies crop traceability

The RiteTrace system help to limit paper record-keeping and makes quality assurance easier

The RiteHeight sensor for sprayer booms has been a success for Greentronics.
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Technology developed by an Elmira-based company is breaking new ground in food safety, traceability and crop management for potato growers.

RiteTrace is the latest application for the potato industry from Greentronics, which has also developed a boom height control system for potato harvesters that can be used on sprayers, as well as a yield mapping system and other tools.

Why it matters: Record-keeping is critical for on-farm food safety programs like CanadaGAP, so traceability technology can help growers quickly respond to potential problems in their crop.

RiteTrace automatically collects yield data as a crop is being harvested and maps where each load comes out of the field. Each truck load is also mapped as it goes into storage allowing growers to precisely locate each load and follow it through its marketing cycle.

“Food safety and knowing where your product has come from gives you traceability and accountability,” said Kate Vander Zaag, who grows potatoes in the Alliston area on a family farm with her husband, son and son-in-law and was one of the first to try the system. “If we have trouble in a bin, we can see where it comes from; if we have excellent quality, we can tell what field or what part of a field that came from.”

In preparation for their CanadaGAP audit – the program requires growers to be able to trace their product back to the field and provide a harvest date – the system has virtually eliminated complicated manual record-keeping. Instead, reports the Vanderzaags need are generated automatically as harvest is progressing.

Kate and her husband Peter first started working with Greentronics founder Bill Menkveld – whom they know from their university days – years ago when they were looking for a yield monitor to put on their potato harvester. This ultimately resulted in Greentronics’ RiteYield system, which generates field-specific yield maps and offers potato growers running yield totals for bins, fields, varieties, and test plots.

The original yield monitoring system designed by Menkveld and his brother Bert, an electrical engineer, about two decades ago was ahead of its time. Software was clumsy, and computers were slow without the large storage capacity needed to handle the vast amounts of data being generated. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that they picked up the technology again and ended up bringing it to market.

About 15 years ago, Menkveld received a request for a height control system for a potato harvester boom that would maintain boom height and minimize tuber bruising. This eventually moved beyond just the potato industry and evolved into their popular RiteHeight system to manage boom height in sprayers.

“We felt confident we could introduce it on sprayers and it was a success right away with farmers in general; it was no longer tied to the potato industry,” said Menkveld. “Our goal was to come up with a system that a grower could install himself; that was important to us that all he would need is what we provide in our box. By keeping it very simple and universal, it allows growers to use it themselves and understand how it works.”

And although RiteTrace is currently just for potato growers, Bill has received inquiries from grain growers in Canada, the U.S. and Australia about how the system could work in their industry.

Seed funding from Bioenterprise has helped Greentronics with some development work on RiteTrace, as well as marketing, attending trade shows and conducting market research with growers. The ag tech accelerator has also been helping the company with a patent application for the traceability system.

“Greentronics is exporting internationally and they have a lot of good products,” said Doug Knox, vice president, technology with Bioenterprise. “They are the on-the-ground precision ag guys and interest is high especially if they can move into that cloud environment.”

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