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2 min read

Meet Kam: Farmer and Fisherman

By Chip Terry on Jun 14, 2021 8:06:10 AM

Although BlueTrace software is great, the key to success is having folks like Kam Kim of Newport News, VA on the team.  

 

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Kam was a farm manager at Cherrystone, one of the largest farms on the east coast, growing millions oysters  before moving on to be the field logistics specialist for the oyster breeding program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

“I used BlueTrace when I was at VIMS,” said Kam. “Back then, we were spending hours and hours trying to find certain bags scattered about underwater. I can’t tell you how stressful it was trying to remember how to track my inventory and what I needed to do next. Once we used BlueTrace, every single bag was accounted for and we always could pinpoint the specific place to find the one we needed.”

Because Kam works with farmers all over the world, he is immersed in their day-to-day logistics. “You can keep track of when you planted the seed, how many bags you planted, when you need to check them, when to thin your oysters out, and pinpoint what time of year they’re growing fastest,” 

As he tells it aquaculture farmers have always tried to track their inventory in their heads, on wet, muddy notebooks, on whiteboards, and cobbled together with Excel sheets. “Shellfish are live animals; they need care and attention, and having to remember all of those little details to keep these animals alive can be very stressful,” he said. “It’s why we created this software because we had so many farmers tell us ‘I can’t manage all of this by myself.’ ”

BlueTrace’s Farm Manager software gives farmers complete control over every piece of data. Just using an iPad, they can see in real-time when the team completes a work task.

And BlueTrace comes with one more bonus: Kam. “I work with all of my farmers directly, one-on-one, whenever they need,” he said. “They can ask me any questions and find the shortcuts around mistakes I’ve already learned.”

From the shellfish farmer new to the business to the established farmer who
relishes data-driven reports, there is a high value for farmers to go home at the end of the day with complete peace of mind knowing that the Farm Manager tool hasn’t missed a thing. According to Kam, "Giving farmers free time to enjoy their lives is one of the most satisfying parts of the job"

Kam uses most of his free time to fish, hunt, and hang with his fellow oyster farmers.  Follow his Instagram to see the amazing catches he reels in every week. 

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4 min read

Meet a Distributor: War Shore

By Chip Terry on Jun 1, 2021 10:36:40 AM

warshore logo squareBrad Blymier started as a small pedestrian farmer on the eastern shore of Virginia over 12 years ago. Very quickly he realized  his natural gift for connecting with chefs and farmers and started helping neighboring farms sell their product. Within a couple of years, he decided to focus solely on the distribution side of the business.  Since then, War Shore has grown into one of the largest specialty shellfish distributors in the “DMV” (DC/MD/noVA). Today they deliver oysters, lobster meat, scallops, clams, mussels and other specialty creatures of the sea to a growing array of chefs and major supermarkets.  With their new Maine buying station (Maine Oyster Initiative) they are one track to buy over 1.5 million Maine oysters this year which is about 15% of their overall oyster sales.

We caught up with Brad to see what we could learn about distribution and what should farmers know about working with a distributor.

Why should a farm work with a distributor?

The majority of shellfish are sold through a distributor because it lets you (the grower) focus on what you do best…farming.  If you don't like making sales, fielding tons of small orders, maintaining trucks and drivers, delivering product, dealing with customer service, and worst of all, handling collections, you are probably best off working primarily with a trusted distributor(s).  The opportunity cost is great when a grower is trying to do both.

What kind of farms don't need a distributor?

I would say Small farms that produce just enough product for a few nearby restaurants don't need a distributor, or just might need a smaller in-state distributor like our neighbors at Upstream Trucking here in Portland, Maine.  George and Rick do a fine job outfitting Portland with quality product. If I were a local grower in the Casco bay, I would 100% put my eggs in their basket and let them place my oysters in Portland. But If you want to scale you need to get your product to different geographies--and for that you will probably need a distributor with a greater reach that serves multiple markets.  Doing this also puts your oyster in a different category competing with hundreds of varieties around the country and Canada.

What role does a distributor play? 

A good distributor is your sales and fulfillment team. They are out in the market, building relationships with that new chef, understanding what their needs are and delivering reliably for them. A good Shellfish Distributor always has their finger on the pulse of what sells, where it sells, and the price it sells for.

What distinguishes War Shore?

We don’t’ use the oyster as a trojan horse to penetrate a restaurant with the goal of selling them fish, or other products with a higher profit margin.  65% of our overall revenue is oysters.  We carefully vet farms and then create a curated Oyster Portfolio to present to our chefs and new prospects, and then we help manage their ongoing oyster program.  We are very proactive in the market, meaning that we do not wait for a chef to ask us to find a particular oyster, then seek that farm out and buy form them one time, or sporadically throughout the year.   Our approach is relationship driven.  If I start a relationship with your farm, I am making the commitment to buy from you 52 weeks of the year, or as long as you can supply me.  Rather than representing hundreds of farms, we focus on a limited amount of partners and build their brands with the buyers (chefs).  

What are the keys for working with a distributor? 

Be a good partner and expect the same from the distributor. This is a handshake, no contract business. If you say you are going to deliver 10,000 oysters every Monday, do that.  And if you agree on a price to sell your oyster to that distributor 12 months out of the year, do that.   Also, play the long game with a trusted distributor.  Do not get hung up on the perceived value of your oyster based on the price you charge for it.  A good Distributor will show you how a competitively priced oyster will go a lot further then a highly priced oyster in many markets outside of your state.  If you want to make more money on your oyster, work on creating a more efficient farm, and cut cost where you can.  I find success working with farms who create a consistent oyster, but more importantly can scale their farm exponentially without losing that quality of that oyster.  2021 has been a very bizarre year so far…oyster shortages everywhere, but this will not last forever.  Mid-late Summer growth will be putting an influx of oysters in the market late Summer and into fall/winter.  This is when you will need your partner distributors the most to kick in and help you unload oysters off your farm.  States like Maine are seeing lots of new farms coming online each year.  Farms that want to thrive and grow will need to look at a variety of revenue models, and it won’t be a “one size fits all”….in my opinion anyway.

How do I pick a distribution partner?

Interview them: Ask what they are going to do for you? Will they commit to purchases every week or is this a one-time purchase to fill an immediate need.?  What else in their portfolio? How many other oysters will be competing with yours in the same space?  There are only so many slots at every restaurant and you want to be unique.  Where do they sell geographically? Don't get hung up on just the price, that is only one part of the equation. And don't hesitate to ask for references.

How can a farm be successful?

Grow a great product, be fair on pricing, run an efficient operation, and build a few strong partnerships.

Final words of wisdom? 

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I thought Hershey's chocolate was the best in the world and could not understand how anyone could disagree.  I still think it is the best, but I understand that there are tons of other chocolates as good as, and surely better.  This is also very true with oysters.  It’s a very competitive landscape.  Partnering with a good distributor(s) can help you successfully compete in a ever growing market.

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2 min read

Tag Printing 101—Say Goodbye to Preprinted Tags

By Chip Terry on Apr 19, 2021 8:47:00 AM

 

Forget Pre-Printed Tags: How Oyster Tracker Can Help Your Shellfish Farm Transition Into The 21st Century

Shellfish farms using pre-printed tags do their best to stay within FDA compliance, but it's estimated that up to 20% of shellfish packages are mistagged due to errors with pre-printed labels. On-demand label printing can help increase accuracy — and make it less likely that you'll end up dealing with hefty fines from the FDA due to mislabeling problems

Let's take a look at some frequently asked questions surrounding the on-demand tagging process. 

Q: What equipment does a business need to use Oyster Tracker's on-demand system for printing tags? 

A: Printing tags is simple. The process can be completed from any iPhone to our durable mobile printer. You won't need to invest in any special equipment beyond what Oyster Tracker provides. 

Q: Is the mobile tag printing system expensive?

A: On average, shellfish companies save 30% compared to the cost of pre-printed labels. Our systems use direct thermal printing, eliminating the need for ink, saving you even more money. 

Q: What happens if the mobile printer breaks?

A: We know what life is like on a shellfish farm: things can get messy. Our mobile printer is designed to meet your needs and can withstand drops of up to five feet. In the rare event that your printer does break, we'll immediately send you a loaner while we replace or repair your printer. All printers are covered by a two-year warranty. 

Q: Does it take a long time to set up the app?

A: If you can use standard iPhone apps, you can use this too. Legal language necessary for shellfish tagging is pre-programmed, making it simple for your and your employees to tap and print. 

Ready to Take the Leap into On-Demand Tagging For Your Shellfish Business?

If you're ready to leave pre-printed tags behind, you're making a smart move. At Oyster Tracker, we understand the ins and outs of the shellfish farming industry, and our tagging app can help to make printing tags as simple as possible for your business. We can't wait to chat and learn more about how we can work with you to streamline your tagging process. 

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Virtual Tradeshow

By Chip Terry on Jan 15, 2021 4:54:18 PM

We did a virtual tradeshow with the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.  Over 90 people showed up!!

Thank you to ECSGA and Bob Rheault for amazing work they have been doing in these trying times.  The show was great for us, but really the power of these organizations is the work they do behind the scenes to keep the industry humming. If you have the means, please join your state or regional organization.  

If you want to see our presentation, visit our YouTube channel.  Enjoy.  

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1 min read

Good News from our Clients

By Chip Terry on Jan 13, 2021 1:02:14 PM

The Aquaculture North America just published it's latest magazine, and our clients are in two separate articles:

1) Shellfish Growers Embrace New Technologies, by Lynn Fantom, profiles growers like Ted Cooney of Madhouse Oysters in Maryland

Cooney took the plunge from Excel spreadsheets to white boards to farm management software quickly, too. When Maine-based entrepreneur Chip Terry demonstrated how a new platform was “like a second brain” to manage tasks from cleaning to tumbling, Madhouse Oysters became one of the first customers of Oyster Tracker. The program also helped Cooney analyze productivity. “I can even look at it from home,” he adds. 

2) A sidebar article: New FDA Rule Triggers Issues on How To Tag and Trace tracks the looming regulatory changes and how Oyster Tracker can help folks stay compliant.  Including the following:

For their operation, Calm Cove Oyster Company, Duane Fagergren chose the digital system launched by Oyster Tracker last spring and already in use at 50 farms. He enters information on his iPhone, which is then stored in the Cloud. A small, weather-resistant portable printer lets him print out a tag with a QR code that “makes regulators happy with the chain of custody.” And if requirements change again, he isn’t stuck with outdated tags. Oyster Tracker will easily make the edit. Although Fagergren says “change is challenging,” he adds, “This has probably been the best business investment we made this year.”

Thanks to both Duane and Ted for doing amazing work and helping us continually improve our products.  

You can read the full articles at Aquaculture North America

 

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1 min read

USDA Aquaculture Data: Tread Carefully

By Chip Terry on Jan 8, 2020 12:48:58 PM

The USDA just released a census of Aquaculture in the US.  As far as I can see, the data has some serious limitations--and it is not the fault of the USDA.  It was a voluntary survey and the results show that the majority of farms didn't return the surveys.  Here are a couple of highlights:

1) Alabama: USDA says there are 3 mollusk farms in Alabama.  Bill Walton of Auburn University count 22 farms.  I can list off 19 farms.  In other words, ~15% of the active farms Alabama are included.  

2) Maryland: USDA has 30 mollusk farms.  Matt Parker of Maryland Sea Grant counts over 100 leaseholders in Maryland. Roughly 30% of farms included.  In addition, there is one mystery farm in Maryland that sold over 23 million shellfish--more than the entire state reported in the previous year. 

3) Maine:   USDA has 42 mollusk farms. Maine Aquaculture Association counts over 190 farms. 22% of farms included.  

This by no means scientific, but my sample of three shows huge variations from reality (insert joke about Washington reality here).  

Although funny, it does matter.  Government support on issues like better crop insurance and disaster relief, support for research programs on better seed, policies on fair use of public waterways, and Jones Act exemptions all often hinge on the value of the industry.  If the government is significantly under counting the shellfish industry it really matter.  

Next time you get that survey?  Probably worth filling out. 

 

  

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2 min read

Oysters: Headed to Tulip Territory?

By Chip Terry on Dec 13, 2019 3:10:59 PM

In 17th century Holland Tulips were the first modern market panic.  Overnight tulip values dropped to almost nothing and scores of people went bankrupt.  The question I get regularly is: Are we in a oyster bubble?  Tulips and Oysters together

I have no way of predicting the future, but here are some of the relevant data points.  

1) Production is way up:  This is the most obvious sign that we are in a bubble.

  1. Production in Massachusetts is up 48% in the last 4 years.  
  2. Maine has 74 full shellfish leases and over 540 Limited Purpose or Experimental leases--and all these leases can sell product commercially
  3. Maryland went from 3,304 bushels in 2012 to 74,066 bushels of oysters in 2017
  4. Virginia has seen a 300% increase in production in 10 years
  5. North Carolina has 48 water column leases--up from 2 leases on 2011
  6. Florida has 200+ leases and just permitted 90 more
  7. Texas just started their aquaculture program
  8. Washington State: Always strong continues to add new farms and grow existing
  9. The Canadian government is really supporting the growth of the industry in the Maritime providence and British Columbia.
  10. Mexico has increasing production on the Baja peninsula. 

2) Wild harvests continue to decline.  Especially most recently in the Gulf of Mexico.

3) Prices vary by region and over time.  Reports by farmers seem to point to the Fall being the worst for the Northeast as many smaller farmers sell off crop they don't want to hold over the winter. Others in Louisiana and elsewhere are reporting that they can't keep up with demand. I regularly hear that prices for high-quality half-shell oyster range from a low of $.30 to a high of $70/pc on the wholesale market.  For folks selling directly to restaurants, the price is often between $.60 and $1/oyster.   

4) Wholesalers/Distributors are doing great:  A major distributor in the Northeast reported that their business has been up 20% y/y for the last 10 years and more than 40% this year.  Real Oyster Cult--a direct to consumer business--has seem their business rise by over 100% in the last year.

5) Restaurants continue to push oysters.  They are a profitable item and tend to be paired with drinks--the most profitable items for a restaurant.

6) Global restaurant trends still support oysters: 

Hyper-local food is a hot trend according to 60% of chefs.  

Sustainable Seafood is a top trend for proteins

7) Folks are not getting sick:  Despite the occasional click-bait article, the number of reported illnesses is down on a per-capita basis.  

8) We are nowhere near our historic consumption:  In the 1890s, ~30% of the protein for the working class came from shellfish--today it is probably well less than 1%

So what should the oyster farmer do?  

1) Be an efficient producer:  If we do hit a drop, being able to produce oyster cost effectively will make all the difference.

2) Build strong relationships with your buyers:  Be the folks that are easy to work with.  Deliver a high-quality product on time as promised.

3) Save for a rainy day: Whether it is a hurricane, ice storm, or dropping demand, something will happen make sure you have savings to tide your over.  

Topics: #OysterLife
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2 min read

Long Island: Amazing

By Chip Terry on Sep 27, 2019 9:00:30 AM

Spent 4 days earlier this month visiting clients and prospects on Long Island.  Clearly this is a region on the rise.  The fresh water of the Atlantic flushes the Little and Great Peconic IMG_2972 (1)Bays creating ideal growing conditions. The communities are largely supportive. The farms can sell to great restaurants on Long Island or within a few hours they can have their product in NYC. No wonder the number of farmers and the size of the farms is growing.IMG_3017

The folks couldn't be nicer--The Burkes from Happy Oyster even put me up at their house for the night. Check out their hilarious YouTube channel.  

The farmers I met were often folks who had decided to move from desk jobs in NYC to become farmers. One had worked for tech startups. Another was an ex-art restorer. The Burke's had owned a bicycle shop. Others had left Wall Street. Some were multi-generation and still going strong.

The Long Island oyster thrived from before Europeans arrived until the early 20th century. But like many places, pollution and over-harvesting devastated the wild populations and much of the industry shut down. Today, new techniques, cleaner water, and new energy is bringing back this historic fishery. It is a good news story in a time when we need more uplifting media.  Thanks for all you do.

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