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Agricultural Company Tracks Equipment Loaned to Farmers

In northern California, Bear River Supply is using battery-assisted passive RFID tags to help keep tabs on such items as tanks and machinery used to store and apply fertilizers.
By Beth Bacheldor
Oct 18, 2007Bear River Supply, a provider of crop fertilizers, chemicals and other agricultural products and services to farmers in northern California, is using battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID tags to help track equipment used to transport, store and dispense its products.

Until recently, the company had difficulty keeping tabs on the equipment it lends out, such as tanks and machinery used to store and apply fertilizers. "This isn't a traditional type of rental program," explains Rich French, general manager of Bear River Supply, headquartered in Rio Oso, Calif., "like if you wanted to rent a tractor, you fill out a form, sign a liability agreement and agree to bring it back by a certain date or else face penalties. The equipment is part of the service that we provide when customers purchase our fertilizers. And because this is traditional agriculture, just because equipment goes out one day, it may rain and the farmer may not use it for a few days. Other times, they might move the equipment to another field."

Although the equipment eventually turns up, French says, Bear River Supply sought a better way to keep track of where the equipment went, and when it was returned. About a year ago, the company learned about radio frequency identification through InCom, a systems integrator it had been working with. After considering a variety of equipment-tracking technologies and processes—including GPS, which French says was too expensive—Bear River began implementing a UHF (902-928 MHz) RFID system from Intelleflex in May. The system leverages Intelleflex's SMT-7100 BAP tags, which comply with EPCglobal's proposed Class 3 standard.

The tags incorporate the vendor's patent-pending "inverted F-plane" antenna. According to Intelleflex, this antenna was designed to help improve the tag's readability around metal by exploiting the tendency of RF signals to reflect off nearby metal objects. The tags feature a durable casing built to protect them against physical impact and damage, and have an IP67 rating, signifying their protection against damage from moisture, dust and vibration.

Using bolts or plastic fasteners, Bear River attached a tag to each of the 150 pieces of equipment it loans out from its Rio Oso warehouse. The tags can be read and written to within about a 165-foot (50-meter) range. At a dock door at the facility, Bear River Supply installed an RFID portal with an Intelleflex multiprotocol RFID interrogator capable of reading not only the SMT-7100 tags but also EPC-compliant tags. The interrogator reads each tag's unique ID number, communicating that data to back-end software that InCom helped Bear River create.

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