2D Barcodes on the Horizon: What about Ag?

Compiled by Paul Schrimpf, Marketing and Communications Director

A recent article appearing on Axios described the next evolution in barcoding for consumer packaging, the 2D barcode. The new code is set to supplant the nearly 50-year old UPC code over the next four years, led by its creator and implementation facilitator GS1 US. When fully implemented, the 2D code will provide vastly more information on a product, enabling improved inventory management and enhanced recall response while delivering more detailed sourcing information for sustainability programs.

Interestingly, one of the opening bullet points from the story went straight to agriculture as an example of the potential benefits: “Scanning them may tell us the field where something was grown, the factory where a garment was sewn, the sustainability practices of the company that made it — or the washing instructions.” A second bullet asserted, “Consumers will gain online access to a trove of useful data — everything from ingredients, recipes, and potential allergens to promotional offers and information about how to recycle the product.”

Of course, agriculture manufacturers are fully aware of the significant chasm that must be crossed to turn the scan of a 2D barcode into meaningful consumer information, in particular for commodity crops that go into processed foods. AgGateway has done meaningful work on grain traceability and is gathering momentum from membership on animal feed production initiatives. Several working groups and Proof of Concept activities focus on establishing standardized interfaces to link product data from retailer to farmer, as well as standardized interfaces to link grain through each transfer event:

field » combine » grain cart » truck … and finally to the elevator or processor.

Still, more work needs to be done. And with the possibility of increased expectations from food manufacturers and consumers likely in the wake of an information delivery system like the 2D barcode, agriculture may be compelled to accelerate work on this front.

The other side of the 2D barcode discussion in agriculture is internal. Could the availability of more intensive information through an enhanced code drive input manufacturers toward implementation?

The barcode itself is already standardized, so the main effort is implementation, says Ben Craker, AgGateway Portfolio Manager. “Everyone has to get their ducks in a row with their own product data. At a recent meeting of manufacturers, one representative explained that his company has six to eight internal databases that all need to be aligned to source all the data needed to populate the product catalog. Defining the standard way of sharing is not the work to be done in this instance, it is aligning all the relevant pieces internally to be able to offer the information through the barcode.”

The additional information and power that a 2D code delivers could make it more appealing for manufacturers to move it forward. “For example, some of the discussions around digital labeling are relevant here,” says Craker. “Rather than simply getting a digital clone of a label from a document scan, the real power comes if you get programmatic access to label information, so if you are applying something and the scan gives you machine-readable up to the minute information on the current situation for that particular product in real time – that would be a substantial upgrade to what we currently have available.”