Can ERP help the fresh produce industry respond to the climate crisis?

Climate change, for so long the menace lurking on the horizon, is now undeniably an active global reality. Some fresh produce businesses are already suffering as a consequence, and the industry will surely be one of the most affected as the world’s temperature continues to rise.

Growers in particular will need to be equipped to fight back. A concerted move towards more sustainable practices on an industry level must be combined with improved processes and technology on a business level. But what exactly is the scale of the challenge, and are Enterprise Resource Management solutions the answer to ensuring businesses are better prepared?

Climate change: the impact on fresh produce so far

The coronavirus crisis has given us a glimpse of the type of supply problems that could become an ongoing concern. Climate change, combined with rapid population growth, poses an even bigger challenge for the fresh produce industry.

But the impacts are already being keenly felt by fresh produce businesses, especially those in parts of the world already used to extreme temperatures. A 2019 report found that the effects of climate change have dented the profitability of Australian farms by a staggering 22% over the past two decades.

Predictions for the future are grim, with some predicting yield losses of 35% over the next 80 years. The major climate change risks faced by the industry include:

Increased rainfall

Climate change is leading to more extreme and polarised patterns of rainfall. One side of this coin concerns the likelihood that waterlogged fields will become commonplace as a result of more persistent rain. It is also eminently possible that major flood events become common in more areas of the world because of these changing rain patterns, as well as due to rising sea levels.

Decreased rainfall

The inverse problem that is also being presented is prolonged periods of dry weather. Unprecedented levels of drought are likely, with frequent widespread crop failure the severe consequence. Some areas of the globe will suffer both dangerously high and low levels of rainfall within the course of a single season.

Rising temperatures

Perhaps the most fundamental concern stems from the fact that the crops we are able to grow and the livestock we keep could change dramatically varying by geographies. Some staple crops could become unviable due to rising temperatures, which would wreak havoc for both farmers and consumers. The most devastating yield losses are likely to be felt by growers closer to the equator, but those at higher latitudes may also suffer - for instance with a lack of the winter chill that is essential for some temperate fruits.

Agriculture is in a fairly unique position with regards to climate change. It is both a significant contributor to global warming while being at high risk from the consequences.

Fresh producers are already preparing for the future risks posed by climate change. They will be some of the first to feel the harshest effects and, as the success of the industry impacts everybody, we all have a stake in protecting them. Some of the actions that will need to be taken to keep fresh produce productivity high include:

  • Improving soil quality
  • More diverse crop rotations
  • Integrating crops, forestry and livestock
  • Embracing more sustainable and efficient practices

How can ERP help the industry react?

The industry will need help to make these changes a reality. Agribusinesses will have to find a way to implement these wide-reaching changes while keeping productivity high. All other links in the fresh produce supply chain will have to adapt too, supporting farmers in their efforts. What’s more, when the effects of climate change on the industry inevitably become more widespread, businesses will have to be more agile than ever.

Specialist solutions like Aptean Food & Beverage ERP - which can be configured for the fresh produce industry - will make a tangible difference in this battle. ERP is first and foremost a facilitator of business transformation - and there are no bigger transformations than the ones needed to adapt to climate change:

Integrating a raft of new technology

When it comes to overhauling fresh produce practices and farming methods - more widespread integration of technology will play a big part. But it is a challenge in itself to introduce the likes of machine learning and AI to fresh produce businesses that have relied on more traditional practices for generations. ERP can act as a bridge - bringing all technology in a business onto one platform that is easy to manage and provides optimum visibility.

Boosting forecasting capabilities

An improved ability to forecast will be vital to adapt to a more unpredictable climate in future. Variations in temperature and rainfall will have a huge impact on the viability of certain crops and lines of fresh produce. If businesses are able to better predict these conditions in advance, it could prove transformative for their ability to optimise the mix of produce they choose to grow and receive the best returns possible. Access to more accurate yield forecasting will also inform the most profitable crop portfolio - especially as yields will likely fluctuate from season to season.

Strengthening the supply chain

The impact of climate change will be felt by all parts of the fresh produce supply chain - from growers to retailers. Improving the synergy between businesses at every stage will be necessary to deal with changing conditions while still meeting consumer demand. ERP enables more robust and flexible sales and purchasing plans that are more able to adapt to sudden shocks. ERP eliminates the siloing of information, giving far more powerful insights for businesses to form their decision-making on.