E is for Agriculture?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 @ 02:45 PM

How RFID Enables Sustainable Forrest Management, Accurate Apricot Harvesting and Food Safety

e-agricultureWe’ve all heard of e-commerce, e-learning and e-pharma - but e-agriculture?  E-Agriculture is a relatively new term that is used to describe the application of information and communication technologies across all aspects of agriculture related industries including crop cultivation, water management and harvesting - to post harvesting activities like processing, food transportation, packaging, preservation, quality management and storage.

In a previous post, we discussed how ThingMagic partner Harvest Tec is integrating RFID into hay baling machines to improve the quality of hay for livestock consumption and to increase its market value.  Here are a few more e-agriculture examples:

Next-Generation Dendrochronology

Tree rings tell the life story of a tree. For each year a tree ages, another ring adds itself to the inside of the trunk. Analyzing tree rings can provide information about the age of the tree, what the climate was like during its life, if it was damaged in any way and if it encountered drought conditions.  Taking a step beyond dendrochronology (the science of studying tree rings to date past events), RFID is being used by commercial growers to collect data about the lineage of trees for planting, harvesting and sales purposes.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods (HLH) is one company implementing RFID for these purposes.  Situated on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii, HLH raises koa trees for furniture building.  The trees begin their life in biodegradable pots in a nursery with a corresponding RFID tag placed in the soil.  Each RFID tag stores data about a tree’s lineage which is referenced at the time of planting in order to maintain a diversified and healthy forest.  At planting, a second RFID tag is placed in the soil next to the tree, raised high enough to be read from a distance of ten feet.  As the trees age, the tags are updated to include fertilization records and other growth related information.  Each field of trees is also mapped out according to latitude and longitude coordinates and the GPS location of each tree is stored on the tag as well.  Handheld RFID readers are used to acquire data from the trees which is periodically uploaded to HLH business systems.  At the time of harvesting, investors interested in purchasing koa tree timber are presented with each tree's lineage and growth data to help with their purchase decisions.

An Apricot Grower In The Know

Qew Orchards in Tasmania is one of the largest apricot orchards in the southern hemisphere.  To improve how they manage their commission-based picking process they’ve turned to RFID to track each picker’s daily progress.  Replacing an inefficient and cumbersome paper-based system with an RFID solution, Qew Orchards now issues employees an RFID-enabled picker card and RFID crate tags.  The ruggedized credit card sized tags are associated with the picker ID card at the beginning of each day.  When crates full of apricots are moved onto an RFID-enabled scale, the crate number and picker productivity is tallied and sent off to payroll.  With this system, pickers are guaranteed to receive compensation for each crate they turn in.

Food Safety

As noted in a previous post titled Addressing Food Safety Issues with RFID, we pointed out how there is an incredible opportunity, if not a responsibility, for growers, distributors and retailers to expand their use of technology, not just to enhance efficiencies, but to create value for their customers in ways that promote health and safety.  One such system is being developed by the University of Arizona's School of Plant Sciences.  The system uses RFID and GPS to allow farmers and retailers to trace lettuce through the supply chain while offering farmers a better view into the productivity of their fields.  Beyond the use of RFID and other communication technologies to drive efficiencies into the produce supply chain, just think about how this type of system could help prevent outbreaks of E. coli and food safety concerns.

If you have an e-agriculture success story or project that could benefit from RFID, please let us know.

(image source: yellowpages.com)

Tags: RFID, Food Safety, Agriculture

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