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RFID Helps Grow and Track Potted Plants

In the Netherlands, plant growers are using an RFID-based solution from WPS Horti Systems to improve plant health and production.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 20, 2007A Dutch company called WPS Horti Systems is providing growers a high-tech, RFID-based means of improving plant health and production, from seed to sale. Nearly five years ago, WPS worked with European auto-ID technology systems integrator Zetes to develop the Plant Order System, using RFID hardware from Tagsys. The company has been selling the system ever since, and a dozen of its customers have deployed it.

In the greenhouse, potted plants are placed in clear plastic pots, RFID-tagged at the bottom.
WPS' Plant Order System is designed for use at greenhouses where plants are grown from seedlings to mature plants, as well as at large plant warehouses where the mature plants are stored and readied for shipment. At the greenhouses, growers place each potted plant into a larger plastic container with a Tagsys 10-TL passive 13.56 MHz transponder permanently attached to its base, encoded with a number to uniquely identify the plant inside.

Tagsys interrogators, mounted under the conveyor systems moving the plants from one growing area to the next, read the tag of each passing pot. At various stages of growth, the conveyors bring each plant to a mounted digital camera to be photographed. The Zetes software correlates each image with the container's RFID tag number, then sends this data to a program that analyzes characteristics of the plant's image—such as size, shape or color—and determines whether the plant is adequately healthy. Once the plant is grown and ready to ship, says Olivier Burah, Tagsys' vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Asia (EMEA), it is removed from the container, which can then be reused for another potted plant.

The pot is placed on a small tray designed to keep it stable as it moves on a conveyor system into a storage area, and later to a shipping area.

Aside from monitoring each plant's health, the Plant Order System also enables growers to perform automated inventory counts and updates on each type of plant. On a daily basis, workers at the greenhouse tend to any ailing plants, applying fertilizer or taking whatever other measures they deem appropriate. Prior to implementing the Plant Order System, growers had to manually inspect all seedlings and plants in the greenhouse to find those requiring special care.

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