Last year when USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue declared the USDA's new motto, "Do right and feed everyone," it really struck a chord with Lukas Fricke.
"A lot of people have asked me 'Why do you do what you do?' and simply put, I like making people happy, and food is probably one of the easiest ways to make people happy," says the sixth-generation Butler County, Neb., pork producer.
After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in animal science and applied science, Fricke joined the family farm full time to work with his dad (who has since passed away), mom and brother in business.
In addition to growing corn and soybeans, having shares in a local farrowing site and running a medium-sized nursery-to-finish operation, the Ulysses, Neb.-based business also has its own feed mill and does all its own trucking.
One of only two members of his family to obtain a four-year degree, Fricke returned with not only "book smarts," but also a business-savvy spirit that he says he gained through UNL's Engler Entrepreneurship Program.
The experience not only benefited Fricke's position back on the farm, but also lent itself to another business opportunity he hopes to launch this month.
When Fricke, 25, returned home, he decided to take the farm's record system online, creating a digital asset to house all the Pork Quality Assurance records, visitor log-ins, daily barn walks, etc.
From there, Fricke says the idea "snowballed," and after meeting a mentor via the Engler Entrepreneurship Program, Jerry Prange — who had some experience in digital platforms — ChorChek was born.
Using blockchain technology and small data, ChorChek streamlines farm operations and data collection, allowing subscribers to keep digital records in a simplified, secure way. ChorChek uses a barn node and a barn hub to function.
Total data collection
The barn hub is comparable to a Wi-Fi router, as it's a centralized control piece that collects all the data from the barn, while the barn node is in a specified location and is a time-stamped device.
The idea is to place the barn node on the opposite end of the barn from the entrance, so when employees push the button, it not only proves they were inside the barn, but also that they walked past all of the animals to push the time stamp.
The system runs off a wireless low-powered, long-range-frequency radio that collects movement and data from employees wearing radio-frequency identification bands.
"It simply started as a way that when we get audited — not if, but when we get audited — all our records are in one place, and I could just click 'print reports' and it just showed all my records, so I didn't have to have all these books all over the place," Fricke says.
However, with all the strong data being entered into the blockchain, Fricke says ChorChek will be useful for producers handling third-party audit verification and for improving consumer confidence in the product.
Just by filling in a farm's PQA data into ChorChek, producers also get access to multiple layers of information such as truck traffic, antibiotic use, feed bin levels, water meter readings, and pit and lagoon levels.
While planning is already underway to launch a 2.0 version of ChorChek, the young entrepreneur says the farm still comes first.
"I love the animals — and you know, it's a lot of fun and there's a lot of good people in this industry, so I don't really see myself leaving it," Fricke says.
"That's where I see myself in five to 10 years, still on the family farm — but hopefully, making a really good go at this ChorChek business, and helping people eat more meat confidently is one of the biggest things."