The Vital Role Standards Play in Ag Cybersecurity

by | Feb 13, 2024 | Security

Securing the Harvest

With tech changing how all companies operate, those in agriculture realize how crucial it is to protect our business from cyber threats. There is an abundance of information available making it difficult for organizations to determine which information is accurate and most important for their needs. So, where should Ag operators focus their cybersecurity efforts?

In 2014, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed the Cybersecurity Framework to help businesses tackle, handle, and mitigate their cybersecurity risk. Although the guide offers a useful framework, it does not address the special needs of and threats specific to agribusiness.

So, how did a group of thought leaders set out to change that?

A Few Protecting All

Our own Robert Collings, marketing director, sat with ag experts Melinda Goodman, founder of FullTilt Marketing, and Johnny McGuire, Director of IT at The Nunes Company and COO of ProduceSupply.Org (PSO), for a conversation about why IT cyber standards are so important and what PSO is doing to protect the industry.

Johnny shared, “PSO has roughly 25 member companies now, coming together to review, discuss, and analyze technology initiatives.” PSO is a consortium of some of North America’s leading produce suppliers working to facilitate technology adoption in the produce supply chain.

While technology helps growers be more productive and efficient, with the increase of technology use comes increased opportunities for cybercriminals. He added, “Most recently, we’ve been very dedicated to cybersecurity due to a number of our members, unfortunately, falling victim to ransomware attacks.”

For the Greater Good

Cybersecurity has often been a taboo topic in Ag, with few willing to share their struggles around security, breaches, and recovery. PSO is breaking that obstructive cultural norm by bringing industry leaders together to share their struggles so as a group, solutions can be developed to benefit all.

The group has been diligently working to identify agriculture’s specific security pain points and provide direction for those seeking to strengthen their cybersecurity. Johnny added, “We’ve done a lot of collaborative work in the last couple of years around cybersecurity, and we’re ready to bring something to the industry.”

The Safety of the Supply Chain

PSO began this endeavor by modeling the newly documented standards against the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and tailoring them to address the needs of the agriculture industry. Johnny shared, “As a committee, we developed a set of standards that are targeted, reasonable, and achievable for produce companies like ours. Because we created them to help protect the industry and our supply chain, we’ve made them accessible to anyone at no cost on our website.”

“We’re eventually going to see some of the large retailers requiring external security audits, or at the least, requiring incident response and disaster recovery plans. They rely on us for fresh produce year-round, not delayed shipments or empty shelves.”

Keeping to industry standards helps build trust among stakeholders, including consumers, investors, and government agencies. It shows a commitment to securing produce data, which is vital for maintaining the food supply chain. “We’re eventually going to see some of the large retailers requiring external security audits, or at the least, requiring incident response and disaster recovery plans,” Johnny added. “They rely on us for fresh produce year-round, not delayed shipments or empty shelves.”

Standing up for Ag Cybersecurity Standards

The PSO Ag cybersecurity standards lay out a straightforward framework for putting security measures in place, and they encourage growers, agribusinesses, and tech providers to team up and build a united front against cyber threats. Melinda added, “I appreciate those of you who have taken the initiative to stand up and assume this leadership role and responsibility for the industry, recognizing that you’re all stronger together, and prioritizing that throughout the entire process.”

When cyber breaches happen, they reach far beyond the screen. They can affect crop yields, partnerships with retailers, and consumer safety. Strengthening cybersecurity can reduce risks and by cutting down on risks, building trust, and sparking innovation, these standards become the backbone for the sustainable growth and resilience of the agricultural sector in our tech-heavy world.

The PSO Cybersecurity Best Practices for Produce Suppliers are available free to everyone in agriculture. If you’re in an IT leadership role in an Ag operator, we encourage you to make use of this exceptional resource. If you’re unsure how to implement them, we can help. Contact us today.

Listen to the Podcast


Listen to the inspiring 23-minute conversation on The Packer’s Tip of the Iceberg podcast as we dive deeper and learn how PSO was born, where they think supplier audits are headed, and Johnny dishes the dirt on what Greg Gatzke, ZAG founder and president, was chatting him up about 15 years ago when they first met.

For more insights and commentary, listen to the entire conversation in the player above or on the Tip of the Iceberg podcast The Packer published here.

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