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Not Bitter, Better. RFID Improves Lemon Distribution

A lemon grower in Argentina uses wireless mobile computers, RFID wristbands on workers, and tags on bins to accurately credit workers for the produce they pick and to track the produce during processing. The system currently is used to process 3,500 bins per day and is being expanded.
Feb 26, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 26, 2009—RFID tags, worker wristbands and mobile computers help Argenti Lemon get the lemons it harvests from the field to the shipping dock. The firm, which is one of the largest lemon exporters in Argentina, is expanding an RFID system that tracks production, streamlines productivity-based pay for pickers, and improves traceability.

The RFID process begins when workers are hired to harvest the fields. Workers are photographed, and their identification information and digitized photo are encoded into a 13.56 MHz RFID tag that is embedded in a removable wristband. Workers are also issued RFID-tagged bins to carry the lemons they harvest. When workers return from picking, the bins are weighed and the amount picked is credited to the worker by reading the bin and the wristband with a WORKABOUT PRO handheld computer from PsionTeklogix, which has an integrated RFID reader. The data is then sent wirelessly to an Argenti Lemon processing facility, where payroll and production planning applications are updated. Argentine firm Noanet provided systems integration services.

"The company decided to automate because they had a lot of problems checking the productivity of each worker and paying them appropriately," Fabian Audisio, PsionTeklogix sales director for Latin America told RFID Update. "Before RFID, they were manual tasks done with paper."

Argenti Lemon began investigating automation options, and soon soured on the idea of using bar codes. "They work the fields in all kinds of weather. Sometimes it is very humid, other times it is very dry. Bar codes just didn't work for them," said Audisio.

Picked produce is trucked from the field to a processing facility. Mobile and fixed-position RFID readers there record bins as they are unloaded from trucks and track the lemons as they move through various processes. The last read occurs when pallets of lemons are dispatched to shipping ports.

The system was piloted last summer and is now in use at three facilities that process 3,500 bins each day. Argenti Lemon plans to install RFID systems at all its facilities and fields by mid-2010. It currently uses approximately 25 handheld readers and expects to use 150 when the system is fully deployed. The company maintains a separate RFID application to track the cattle it raises.

"Now Argenti Lemon has a very safe and effective system for tracking its produce," said Audisio. "We hadn't done any other systems like this one, but we are looking to do more. There are a lot of citrus producers in South America, and they have the same needs."

The Argenti Lemon deployment is the second food tracking system announced this month. Earlier, Hawaiian officials announced a new phase to its RFID produce tracking project (see Hawaii Expands Produce Supply Chain RFID Pilot).
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