Ontario start-up launches grain-trading app

‘Industry-first’ potential to eliminate time-consuming paperwork

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An Ontario company has launched a new app that provides instant information and creation of grain-trading contracts in what it is calling an industry first.

The Grain Discovery app for iPhone, along with its companion online portal for all internet connections was launched on a trial basis at the Prince Edward County-based Lockie Farms Grain Elevator and has now been rolled out to a number of other independent Ontario elevators and their farmer suppliers.

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Speaking to Farmtario as soybean harvest neared its close, Lockie Farms General Manager Tiffany Spearing said about 35 per cent of their customers are now using Grain Discovery in some form.

“Some guys are using it only for the information that we are able to provide through the app, but still want to get on the phone and make that call to talk about a sale,” she explained. “But there’s a bunch of other farmers who want to use it for everything.”

Why it matters: When the combines roll, time can be crucial; Grain Discovery eliminates the often time-consuming telephone tag that can precede an agreement to sell crop.

The Grain Discovery start-up began in 2018 exploring the possibilities of using blockchain technology to securely transmit data through agricultural value chains. The proposed benefits range from instantaneous payment for commodities based on accurately-recorded volume and quality, to allowing consumers to trace back the origin of their food from table to farm.

A government-supported pilot project working on Canadian identity-preserved soybean seed was followed up, this past summer, by a collaboration with Alberta-based Olds College to brew and market a consumer-tracking-friendly beer called “Barley Trail Local Lager.”

The launch of the new app signals the company’s entry into the competitive grain trading market. And, according to Grain Discovery CEO Rory O’Sullivan, that’s exactly where they want to be.

“I couldn’t be prouder to see our solution go live,” said O’Sullivan in a news release sent out in early October. “By allowing live pricing, and … instant contract confirmation, we’re eliminating missed marketing opportunities and tedious jobs like juggling calls and manual paperwork. That’s game changing, and I’m thrilled with the response so far.”

O’Sullivan and Grain Discovery Director of Business Development Pete Oram conducted a demonstration over Zoom for Farmtario, showcasing both the elevator interface and the farmer interface (a much shorter demonstration video can also be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM3eulGfcG0&t=46s).

Oram, acting as a farmer, logged into the members-only section of O’Sullivan’s fictional elevator (the CEO’s real-life brother operates three grain elevators in the family’s home country of Australia; Rory hopes to have the Grain Discovery app in his brother’s hands in time for November’s Aussie wheat harvest) and uploaded his harvest of corn available for sale.

The portal includes the elevator’s current price offers. The farmer can either accept that price and click the “sell” link, or upload their own target price.

If they agree to sell, a contract is immediately generated by the app, and communicated to the farmer and elevator. Or if the elevator eventually agrees to the target price, the same occurs.

Both farmer and elevator, meanwhile, have continuous access to the same information about the wider grain marketplace. This is something a number of Lockie Farms customers have come to appreciate – getting an eye, Spearing suggests, into the marketplace that they might not have enjoyed in the past.

“I suppose the original idea for (the app) was born out of the frustrations I had experienced” with his own family’s operation, O’Sullivan said. He added that, from his experience, the same “pain points” exist in the Australian context as in Canada’s grain-trading sectors.

Still to come – as early as a month from now – is the integration of the Grain Discovery app into the elevators’ accounting software. When that happens, farmers will see instantaneous updates of their status as crop is delivered to the buyer. They’ll have weigh tickets, quality information and payment details.

“Some farmers might choose to print (this information) off and add it to their files or, ideally, it starts to eliminate the need for filing cabinets in offices,” Oram predicted, “because you now have all this information in one place.”

“You’ll even be able to look back on previous years to see when you delivered, how much, how much was paid.”

From the elevator or buyer perspective, an immediately confirmed agreement to sell gives them the opportunity to hedge that volume on the grain trading market, instead of waiting until the farmer gets enough time away from the combine to finish and deliver the paperwork.

And Spearing says it’s great that her staff can now arrive at a farm, open their phone, and have immediate updates if the price being offered has changed since they left the office. “I don’t have to have a whiteboard with a number on it that I have to go and change,” Spearing notes, “because it’s all there for everybody to see on the app.”

Grain Discovery aims to introduce the app into western Canada and Australia in the coming months. O’Sullivan says Ontario is an ideal testing ground because it has a lot of smaller, independent elevators but is also a much smaller market, volume-wise, than the Prairies. The response so far, he asserts, leaves him confident about growth.

“Another thing that’s great about this technology,” the CEO noted, “is that it can work for anything from a mom-and-pop elevator to a large organization with multiple large locations. It’s very scalable.”

About the author

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Stew Slater

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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