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RFID Produces Ripe Rewards for Tasmanian Apricot Grower

Qew Orchards, the Southern Hemisphere's largest apricot producer, is using EPC Gen 2 RFID to track increases in efficiency, as well as properly compensate its fruit pickers.
By Dave Friedlos
Mar 22, 2010Qew Orchards, the largest apricot producer in the southern hemisphere, is using radio frequency identification to increase efficiency and properly compensate its workers.

Qew's trees are located on separate properties in Tasmania, Australia, and the company employs up to 150 itinerant fruit pickers each year during the harvest season. The employees are paid based on the number of crates they fill, to provide them with incentive to generate the maximum possible output.

Near the weigh station, Qew uses an RFID portal to read the RFID tags attached to filled crates stacked on a pallet.
Previously, each fruit picker was given wax-coated paper picker tags, perforated into three parts, at the start of each day. Once a worker had filled a crate, he would attach one of the paper tags to it, then pull off one of the perforated pieces for his own record. When a tractor arrived to collect the crates, staff members would rip off the middle tag, which would be sent to the office to be counted that evening. The crates would then be taken to a refrigerated storage unit, and if any were incorrectly filled, or contained poor fruit, the company would be able to refer to the attached paper tag to identify the picker who had handled that crate.

According to Alistair Chong, a spokesperson for Qew Orchards, the paper tags were not reusable, and the system was time-consuming and inefficient. Radio frequency identification, he says, was the logical alternative. Bar-coded stickers had been trialed, but they faded in the sun by the time they were taken back to the shed and were stored in a cooler overnight, thus preventing the company from knowing who had picked a particular crate.

"RFID also seemed the most appropriate choice because of the large volume of transactions that take place in such a short space of time," Chong states. "RFID would save us time, labor and aggravation, as we would no longer have to sit and count picker tags at the end of every night."

Qew Orchards considered a number of RFID suppliers before eventually deciding on Ramp RFID Solutions, an Australian RFID software developer and systems integrator. The two companies tested the technology ahead of the rollout—specifically, the RFID tags' performance, given the density and water content of apricots.

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