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Monsanto Hopes to Sow Benefits by Tagging Seed Packets

The company's Agracetus division is set to launch a pilot next month to evaluate RFID for tracking cases of experimental seeds.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
In addition, Richgels hopes to use the RFID tags to perform inventory of tagged packets at both the Agracetus location and the test farms, and to locate specific packets within inventory. In preparation for the pilot, Richgels has worked with systems integrator Miles Technology and Avery Dennison's Atlanta Technical Center to select the hardware and software to be used.

As they did for the in-lab feasibility tests, Richgels and his staff will apply both HF and UHF passive tags to the packets for the pilot, to gauge the performance of both. Because HF tags are known to be significantly better-performing than UHF, with faster read rates, Richgels says that when many tags were being interrogated close to one another, he expected HF to win out. However, the lab's feasibility tests didn't show that to be the case. "I expected HF to have a definite advantage over UHF, but in the end it was marginal," he says.

Large groups of HF tags could be read faster than the same number of tagged packets with UHF tags, but Richgels says speed isn't vital to the application he has in mind. "For us, taking five seconds, versus 20 seconds, to read a box of packets...that doesn't make much difference," he says. Either, Richgels adds, would be a tremendous improvement over the 20 minutes or more that staff members currently spend manually scanning each packet's bar code.

Richgels says he is interested in testing HF tags with phase jitter modulation—a method of changing a radio wave's phase to communicate data, created to address applications in which large numbers of tightly packed tags must be read quickly—but says he has no specific plans to do so as part of the upcoming pilot. In addition, Richgels expresses an interest in possibly experimenting with using passive tags to determine location, so that employees could find specific packet within a case by querying for the unique ID number encoded to its RFID tag. Once the pilot is complete, tag price, performance and functionality will all factor into the final tag selection process.

According to Lynn Pias, Monsanto's global manufacturing information technology lead, the seed packet test is likely just one of many RFID projects Monsanto is planning, since it recently joined the advisory board of the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center and is working to develop pilot ideas with the group. Pias and William Schulz, who heads the Monsanto's global supply chain optimization/analytics efforts, are both representing Monsanto on the advisory board.

The center, housed in the Information Technology Research Institute at the school's Sam M. Walton College of Business, has managed RFID research projects and studies for the likes of Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and logistics firm J.B. Hunt. According to a press statement released by the RFID Research Center, Monsanto is supporting the center as a way of connecting with developing RFID applications, to share its experiences with the technology with other companies, and because it is interested in how RFID could improve the efficiency of its supply chain and improve customer service.

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