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Can RFID Be Useful in a Farming Environment?
If so, can you please describe some applications?
Radio frequency identification has a number of valuable applications within the farming environment. One application is traceability—using RFID to track meat, poultry and produce from a farm to a consumer's home.
A European project overseen by the University of Wolverhampton and a consortium of universities, technical institutes and commercial entities is determining how RFID technology can benefit the perishable-goods supply chain. The project, known as Farm to Fork (F2F), was launched last year, with half of its funding provided by the European Commission's ICT Policy Support Program—aimed at stimulating innovation and competitiveness—which includes a half-dozen pilots throughout Europe to track pork, fish, wine and cheese through the production process and on to stores (see Ambitious European Project Traces Food from Farm to Fork).
Taiwanese fruit producer Je-Nong Cooperative Farm is employing an RFID-based solution to document the receipt and processing of its fresh fruit at its facility in Miaoli County. By using passive EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags integrated in plastic crates, the company can monitor every step that the fruit undergoes, as it happens, and the conditions within coolers before the fruit is transported to stores throughout Taiwan, as well as in China, Japan and Korea (see Taiwanese Fruit Distributor Tracks Fresh Produce Via RFID).
Many countries have mandated the tracking of cattle and other animals with RFID so they can be traced in the event of an outbreak of disease. But some companies are tagging animals for their own benefit. Costa View Farms, in Madera, Calif., tagged more than 6,000 dairy cows with passive RFID transponders encoded with unique ID numbers. The identification system has saved the farm's workers countless hours previously spent searching for and treating cows, while also improving its animal records and even boosting milk production (see Costa View Farms Milks Savings From RFID).
An Israeli firm specializing in pork products is employing an RFID system at its pig farm in Galilee to track the health and productivity of its sows as they produce piglets. For the past three months, the meat producer—which asked to remain unnamed—has been using the BOSwine system, provided by Israeli RFID solutions provider Better Online Solutions (BOS), to track the amount of feed the pigs eat, as well as their weight, their pregnancies and the number of piglets they produce. The system is expected to increase litter size and frequency, while also reducing the piglets' mortality rate (see With RFID, Pork Producer Sells No Swine Before Its Time).
Paramount Farms—one of the world's largest suppliers of pistachios—relies on an RFID system to help automate and increase the efficiency of processing incoming shipments of pistachios from growers. The privately held Los Angeles-based company was enjoying growing worldwide demand for its products in 2004, which forced the company to develop a more efficient method of receiving, evaluating and paying for the nuts provided by its numerous suppliers. RFID proved to be the right technology (see Farm Harvests RFID’s Benefits).
There is also a lot of interest in using RFID to monitor the temperature of goods in transit. In 2011, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture launched a pilot to test whether temperature sensors in RFID tags, attached to reusable plastic pallets, would enable members of the produce supply chain to monitor the conditions of products as they are shipped from one Hawaiian island to another. The pilot was an international effort, with data stored and shared on a server provided by GS1 Hong Kong, and involving reusable plastic pallets, RFID software and consulting provided by Asia Pallet Pooling (APP), a Taiwanese supply chain solutions firm that is also largely financing the project. The research is ongoing (see Hawaiian Group Readies Cold-Chain RFID Pilot).
There are experimental RFID sensors that can track the moisture and sunlight in different areas of farms to reduce water consumption and improve yields. But I have not seen these deployed on an operational farm on an ongoing basis.
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
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