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Text: Elise-Marie Steenkamp

The era of big data is upon us. And it is not just a fad, but will colour how we grow and guide business in future, says Carol Swarts Manager of Agri-Hub – the fresh fruit industry’s export data portal.

Seven years ago the fruit industry realised that the manual information system that was in place at the time, did not give timeously, accurate and complete information that was required to make informed decisions about the export markets.

“The shipping reports were always late and the information system just wasn’t good enough for the export market,” says Swarts.

The idea of a centralised database system where shipping information could be automatically consolidated and appropriately presented gave birth to Agri-Hub.

“You see data in itself is not a magic wand. It’s just part of a path to the business solution or strategy. And in the fresh produce export business a vital tool to ensure profits.”

Simply defined is big data analytics the application of advanced algorithms to analyse data sets containing a variety of data types. The goal is to provide consolidated information as to what is being shipped where to allow the market to decide where best to sell their fruit. There are added benefits of the consolidated data, for example, what size fruit a particular market might prefer. Uncovering these hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, and customer preferences, are valuable business information.

According to Swarts Agri-Hub utilises the many transmission files by the different service providers such as packhouses, the depos, and shipping companies. Previously this information was generated but never effectively consolidated and therefore trusted to be fully utilized. At Agri-Hub we have created a system to aggregate the information while still protecting everyone’s confidentiality. But the industry as a whole can benefit from the export market trends.

Why is data so important?

Market prices largely depend on how much fruit is in the market at any given time, says Hortgro’s Trade and Markets Manager, Jacques du Preez.

“We have to manage the amount of fruit that arrives at a specific port.

If we publish a report stating that we send X amount of plums to the UK market, they can adjust next week’s shipment so that the market is not flooded. That way we can make sure we send fruit where it is wanted and needed.”

“There is a saying in the fruit business ‘don’t mess with the price’ – and having big data available to aid decision-making helps to achieve just that.

“For instance when there is a shortage of fruit or vessels are windbound – with the captured data we know how much fruit will arrive when and where. When we are faced with challenges like strikes or adverse climatic conditions we can rely on the information and adjust market expectations. With this knowledge, growers know which varieties sell at what price, where it is popular and this will again influence what they will be planting in future.”

Swarts underlined that Agri-Hub only publishes data that is collated at a high level. “That means that we do not publish data at farm or customer level. We keep it general and the main reason is not to give any a competitive advantage away. Our information sources need to trust us. And we have to give a service that is worthy of that trust. Also, the collated information pool is huge and in order to make it manageable, we summarise it. The data is near real-time making it possible for industry role players to make informed marketing and logistic decisions.”

Agri-Hub is a first for the industry and a collaboration between Industry Service Providers and various industry organisations. It is accessible to all growers and members of the joint marketing forums.

According to Anton Kruger, CEO of the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum (FPEF), exporters identified the need for “shipped’’ information, which is near real-time, a few years ago due to the fact that the inspection data was only available after a relatively long period. “The industry thus got involved with attempts/projects in the past to try and address this need  – but without success. The creation and successful operation of Agri-Hub was and still is, an important value-adding mechanism to assist with marketing decisions. As Agri-Hub progresses, it is foreseen that more opportunities will be identified where Agri-Hub can add additional value,” said Kruger.

Agri-Hub fast facts:

  • In 2011 the more prominent fruit industry ISPs (Information Service Providers) and industry representatives started talks to provide the industry with reliable statistics information. The main participants during these talks were Citrus Grower Association (hereafter referred to as CGA), Fresh Produce Exporters Forum (hereafter referred to as FPEF), Hortgro, Perishable Products Exports Control Board (hereafter referred to as PPECB), South African Table Grape Industry (hereafter referred to as SATI), Dipar, Farsoft, Paltrack and Prophet.
  • The main aim of Agri-Hub is the gathering, processing, analysing and timeous distribution of reliable information, with a special focus on shipping volumes, to all role-players.
  • NAMC agreement was Gazetted on 30 January 2015, making it compulsory for Exporters, Packhouse and Depots to provide there shipping and airfreight data to Agri-Hub.
  • The first Agri-Hub reports where made available for stone fruit during the 2014/2015 season, this was followed by pome, grapes, and citrus.
  • Agri-Hub is now the primary source of shipping data for these commodities.
  • Agri-Hub publishes reports weekly, during the season, on its website. Members of participating associations can have access to a live report section from where additional reports can be downloaded.
  • If reports are not available in the format required custom reports can be accommodated.
  • Agri-Hub is funded by the Hortgro, CGA, SATI and FPEF and subscriptions from interested parties that are not members of these organisations.
  • Agri-Hub has two staff members that work out of an office in Somerset West, with a very friendly Rhodesian Ridgeback to welcome you.
  • Visit Agri-Hub here:
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