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RFID Helps Foresters Grow Koa Trees

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods uses EPC Gen 2 tags to identify each tree it raises and then harvests for its investors.
By Claire Swedberg
While monitoring and maintaining the trees in the lots, employees use the handheld interrogator to read each tag's ID number, which is linked to the investor in the back-end software, ensuring the lot's location for each investor is stored along with the ID numbers of all trees planted within its perimeter. As the trees are thinned, their RFID tags are read and "retired," meaning the software is updated to indicate those particular trees have been removed.

The planting of saplings began in February of this year, and the company now has 200 lots under cultivation, for a total of 20,000 trees, all of which have RFID tags. Within the next few years, the company hopes to have about 250,000 planted.

Darrell Fox (left) and Jeffrey Dunster
The trees grow fast, the company reports. When approximately three and a half years old, they can stand as much as 35 feet tall, and by the eighth year (by which time some of the trees have been thinned out and harvested), the largest will have reached about eight inches in diameter and 45 feet in height. At that point, each RFID tag will be removed from the soil and glued directly to the tree trunk's bark, at chest-height. The trunk will subsequently grow around the tag, securing it in place. When soil is fertilized, a tree is pruned, or any other event occurs related to tree maintenance, the tag will be read again, and data will be input regarding that event. Information will then be stored on a SIM card on the Convergence Systems device, to later be uploaded onto the back-end server at the end of the day. The handheld device can also transmit data via a GSM cellular transmission; however, there is currently no cellular coverage in that mountainous region.

Investors can also use the handhelds if they go to the mountain to visually inspect the lots and the trees they contain. In that case, the investors could take a handheld with them, and read the trees' tags to help locate and confirm their lots.

At around the age of 25, the trees should be up to 50 feet tall, 20 to 25 inches wide, and ready for harvesting. The tag can go with the tree's trunk to the lumber facility, where it could then be read to confirm the tree's origins, maintenance history and lineage before it is cut up into logs and boards, says HLH's CEO, Jeffrey Dunster. Harvesting facilities, however, may not have RFID readers at the time the trees begin to be harvested, some time in the next 20 years or more.

Although the software is currently accessible only by HLH's staff, Fox says his company intends to make the data accessible in the near future to investors through its Web site, with a user name and password. The investors could then check the trees' status on their lot at any time.

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