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RFID Tracks Leafy Greens in Arizona

University of Arizona researchers have developed a system that would enable users to monitor the lettuce supply chain, or study the productivity of each section of a field.
By Claire Swedberg
After using the system for one year, the University of Arizona was able to provide growers with specific data regarding the productivity of each section of their lettuce fields, as well as make recommendations about how to improve the yield in the less productive areas. In this second year, Nolte says, the researchers are now examining whether the growers are successful in their efforts to increase productivity in those troubled areas identified by the RFID-GPS system.

The system has been working well, Nolte says, and requires no additional labor on the part of field workers. The group has now submitted the solution to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and ultimately hopes to sell the system to a technology provider.

Nolte hopes the solution will be useful not just for lettuce growers, but also for farmers raising other crops that are packed in cartons or bins, including citrus, nuts, or other fruits or vegetables. He notes that mandates related to food supply chain visibility will make a system such as this one more critical. For example, the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI)—sponsored by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Produce Association—requires that by 2012, all lettuce sold in retail locations must be traceable to the farm at which it was grown. In addition, the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA)—crafted by PMA, the United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers—may spur the adoption of technology allowing better supply chain traceability, as part of an agreement between shippers and growers in which the shippers sell products only from growers that use accepted good agricultural practices.

The University of Arizona's system is currently being used at several participating growers' fields in the Yuma area, near the Mexican border.

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