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The tomato in your pasta tonight may be traced back to the ground where it was harvested

Kagome tomato processing plant in Echuca, Victoria. (Source: Peter Gutierrez)

A tech company in rural Victoria has created an Internet of Things (IoT) system for Japanese food processing firm Kogame that allows a piece of vegetable to be tracked from the point it was harvested to the dinner plate.

Advance Computing, based in Kyabram in northern Victoria, has built a complex network of GPS tracking and sensors on harvesters, trucks and the processing line that feed data back to software to track every tomato that arrives at Kogame’s factory in Echuca.

This means that the factory, which sees 180 tonnes of tomatoes arrive each hour during harvest season, can track back every crate of tomato paste it produces back to the truck and even the point-of-harvest on Bing maps.

The breakthrough was revealed weeks after Telstra showed off its own “agritech” IoT solution, beaming data from sensors at Pooley Wines estate in rural Tasmania all the way to the telco’s trade show booth in Barcelona, Spain.

Kagome tomato processing plant in Echuca, Victoria. (Source: Peter Gutierrez)

Tomato prices have barely risen in the past two decades in a highly commoditised global market. Kagome field operations general manager Nick Raleigh said that with Australia’s high cost of production, high quality of product via technology is the only way the company can stay competitive.

“The tomato market is highly commoditised and it’s very hard to take costs out,” he told media at the Kogame factory last week. “We have to go to quality to charge a premium.”

In each harvest season, Kagome manufactures up to 40,000 tonnes of tomato paste and diced tomato products for selling to end-food producers such as pasta, sauce and snackfood makers and catering outlets.

Before the new IoT system, traceability was implemented through cumbersome telephone calls and associated paperwork each day between the farm, the factory and the trucks. Now Advance Technology’s solution has repaid five times over the cost of implementation just in the first season of harvest, according to Kagome chief executive Jason Fritsch.

“It used to take well over 500 calls between individuals to get this coordinated. We’re now down to 40-50 and we are just doing it better,” he said. “The biggest issue we had was waste all round – largely time. At the end of the day we recognised we had a problem.”

But for Raleigh, the “return on investment” is the peace of mind in being able to immediately resolve any food safety issues.

“You can only go so far without using technology,” he said.

Kagome tomato processing plant in Echuca, Victoria. (Source: Peter Gutierrez)

Advance Computing built the system on Microsoft technologies, with sensors, weight scales and GPS devices transmitting information back to a central database for immediate access through smartphones and web browsers.

Advance Computing director Chris Motton said he likes visibly seeing the rewards of his solutions.

“It’s growing in the paddock as you drive home, helping the farmer down the road – you get to see the results and that’s really satisfying as a technology company.”

The journalist travelled to Victoria courtesy of Microsoft.

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