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Report Supports UHF RFID for New Zealand Animal Tracking

A pilot project in New Zealand generated strong evidence that ultrahigh frequency (UHF) RFID technology is better suited to livestock tagging in that country than low frequency (LF), which is the flavor of RFID deployed historically. The New Zealand RFID Pathfinder Group conducted the pilot in April and May with groups of deer, sheep, and cattle.
Tags: Standards
Aug 04, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

August 4, 2008—A pilot project in New Zealand generated strong evidence that ultrahigh frequency (UHF) RFID technology is better suited to livestock tagging in that country than low frequency (LF), which is the flavor of RFID deployed historically. The New Zealand RFID Pathfinder Group conducted the pilot in April and May with groups of deer, sheep, and cattle. It used commercially available readers and reader antennae, but the ear tags were a prototype product. The group found UHF to be much faster than LF, and to offer longer read ranges. It published the findings in a report entitled RFID Technical Study: The Application of UHF RFID Technology for Animal Ear Tagging.

The motivation for the pilot was the National Animal Identification and Tracing project, or NAIT. NAIT is a current initiative by the New Zealand government to have all cattle and deer on the island nation tagged by 2011, with the ultimate goal of containing disease outbreaks, improving livestock management for farmers, and enabling consumers and export markets to know exactly where the meat they buy comes from. NAIT proposes use of LF RFID technology.

RFID Pathfinder Group chairman Alan Mayo was quoted in the announcement, "If LF technology was mandated for deer and cattle identification and traceability without proper investigation of the UHF alternative, our livestock industry could forego substantial benefits in operational efficiency and cost competitiveness." The report recommends that UHF be given "serious consideration" in lieu of LF, though it also pushes for additional UHF testing, including more weather conditions and livestock setups.

The tests included reading various configurations of both livestock and RFID portals, and in certain tests the animals were sprayed with water to test the performance under precipitation.

Among the findings, UHF demonstrated near 100 percent readability, even under more extreme conditions than the minimum mandated by NAIT. UHF also averaged read distances of 1.5 to 2 meters. Lastly, hundreds of tags could be read per second. By comparison, LF often only allows one tag to be read at a time, and at much shorter distances.

Further support for UHF is pricing. While prices for LF technology have remained largely flat for the last few years, UHF prices have come down considerably thanks to growing adoption and major investments in the technology. "Global trends are evident with both UHF tags and readers as the technology matures and heads towards mainstream adoption. By comparison, we see the cost of LF infrastructure remaining relatively static," Mayo was quoted.

It is hard to know whether NAIT will be responsive to the Pathfinder Group's findings. There was no mention of the study in the most recent NAIT newsletter, dated July 17th. The Pathfinder Group published its findings announcement on the very same day, so it's possible NAIT didn't get the news in time. NAIT does appear to be interested in input from industry; in that same newsletter it implores readers to submit their thoughts and comments about how the system should be implemented before the August 1 deadline.

The Pathfinder Group is a non-profit entity comprised of a handful of New Zealand organizations to further the adoption of RFID technology and EPC standards. Given this mission, its strong endorsement of UHF technology (which is what EPC currently uses) should come as no surprise. Still, the group presents a compelling case for selection of UHF over LF.
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