Comment: Digital grain passports – room for compromise?

27th February 2024 | Comment, Grain Trading, UK Policy & Regulation

The move towards digitalisation may seem inevitable in all walks of life, but it has caused a division in the grain trade over a proposed digital grain passport system.

A late intervention by a group of smaller, independent grain trading businesses called for the retention of the paper grain passport as its submission to the consultation over a digital passport system that closed at the beginning of February. The group believe the proposal overestimates the benefits for growers while understating the cost, complexity and risk of a digital system. One former senior trader for a major has dismissed the group as a “nostalgic history society”.

Digitalisation is a fact of life. For instance, all businesses have had to adapt to online banking over recent years – nowadays paper cheques can be time consuming to process, even if you are lucky enough to still have a rural bank branch for their deposit.

The current industry row over grain passports is reminiscent of the split over grain sampling a few years back. Larger merchants had long resented the cost of sending people out to sample a seller’s grain and eventually ended the practice on the health and safety grounds of sending predominantly students to remote locations on their own. However, some smaller merchant businesses retained on-farm sampling, arguing it was part of their service to the farmer, while helping to retain a competitive edge against the larger businesses.

Perhaps there is room for compromise – the larger businesses could pilot the digital system to prove it works, with others joining as the inevitable problems are ironed out and a majority of intakes have adopted the system. And a digital passport will only work for merchants if fully adopted by growers, hauliers and end users.

A two-tier system with paper passports phased out over time might be less confrontational than a big bang change.

The move towards digitalisation may seem inevitable in all walks of life, but it has caused a division in the grain trade over a proposed digital grain passport system. A late intervention by a group of smaller, independent grain trading businesses called for the…