Since the early days of mankind’s agrarian past, farmers have found ways to adopt the latest tools and technologies to improve agriculture. From hand tools to tractors, from combines to computer science, up-to-date innovations have been applied in ways that save time and labor, cut costs and improve yields. In recent years, RFID technology has found its way onto the farm.
RFID technology is used to track items of all types, due to the speed and convenience of scanning RFID tags in bulk without requiring direct line of sight. Many industries use RFID for inventory management to gain greater visibility and accuracy throughout the supply chain, improving operational efficiency and raising profit margins.
RFID technology can raise more than profits; the agriculture industry is using the versatile technology to help raise crops. In fact, the technology has become particularly popular with growers of one specific cash crop — marijuana.
As more states have legalized marijuana, either for medicinal or recreational use, a cornucopia of complex regulations have sprouted up around the industry. Because the drug is still illegal under the federal government, those states where it is legal have strict requirements to track plants from seed through supply. For example, growers in Colorado are required to track every part of every plant, even the compost, to ensure that no buds or cuttings wind up on the black market.
To address this need, growers have gone high-tech
The process of tracking individual plants presents a complex challenge, as plants are sent from the grower to be processed before being sent to the retailer or dispensary. After being harvested, plants are typically moved around from drying operations to trimming to shipping, and the excessive handling means a robust system is needed to track them.
In order to ensure legal compliance, as well as keeping track of their valuable inventory, marijuana growers are using RFID tags and RFID readers to simplify and streamline plant management. With the potential to implement a fully automated tracking system using RFID, growers can easily maintain real-time visibility into their supply chain, tracking each plant all the way to point-of-sale, where taxes are assessed.
Beyond tracking plants to comply with local laws, the use of RFID to manage agricultural inventories allows valuable data to be collected for better forecasting. And in nursery or landscape settings, where trees and plants can cover a vast area, wide-area fixed RFID speeds and simplifies the location of specific items for faster order fulfillment.
What about the data?
RFID is the first of two necessary components in realizing these benefits. The second is a big-data capable IoT software platform that can collect, filter, store and analyze the data. Choosing the right platform opens the door to additional benefits. Growers use state-of-the-art methods to deliver as many as five crops per year by carefully tracking growing conditions such as light level, humidity, temperature and soil chemistry. The right IoT platform provides growers with the ability to track these variables to provide real-time notification of changes and yield analytics to control and improve growing techniques.
The time-honored industry of agriculture may be rooted in the past, but it’s not standing still. And when it comes to the budding business of legalized marijuana, adoption of the latest technology innovations like RFID tracking for inventory management can mean the difference between high times or bust.