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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
Whenever a Bear River employee exits the warehouse with a piece of equipment bound for a customer's site, a dispatcher accesses a nearby computer and types in order information supplied either verbally or via a paper order. If the dispatcher fails to key in the order information (which links the unique ID number on the equipment's RFID tag to the customer receiving it), the software triggers an alert that flashes across the computer screen, reminding the dispatcher to enter the necessary data.

When an employee retrieves a piece of borrowed equipment and brings it back to the warehouse, the RFID portal interrogates the tag and the dispatcher makes a note in the system, documenting that the item is back at the Bear River facility. In some cases, equipment is not returned to the Rio Oso warehouse, and is instead moved directly to the farm of another customer. To track that equipment, Bear River has five handheld PDAs that dispatchers can use to manually enter information indicating where the equipment has been taken. The PDAs do not currently incorporate RFID interrogators. French says his company considered buying models with built-in RFID readers, but decided the extra expense wasn't necessary. "This is working well," he states.

Since implementing the RFID system, French says, Bear River Supply has gained greater insight into where its equipment is located, and how long it stays at a particular customer site. "I have learned that there are people out there that utilize the equipment much more efficiently than others," he says.

Although Bear River has not changed its pricing, French says he expects to do so in the coming year. "The use of this equipment is not a line item in our pricing," he notes, "but it is figured into costs." De-bundling the cost of equipment usage is becoming a popular pricing option among Bear River's competitors, and French says the firm may consider it. "This tracking could help."

For now, Bear River is using the RFID system at only one of its facilities. But French says the company expects to see a positive ROI from the system within the first planting season—in less than five months—and may expand it to its two other facilities, located in Gridley, Calif., and Richvale, Calif.

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