Agriculture Technology

Use Cases and Prospects of RFID in Agriculture and Food Industry

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a technology that uses electromagnetic radiation to detect or track objects carrying electronic devices known as tags. RFID technology has been around for a long time but only gained momentum in 2002 with NFCs that are omnipresent nowadays. Several consumer-level technologies like mobile phones have been using this technology for wireless payments or sharing a small amount of data like contact information.

Working Principle

How do RFID tags and reader antennas work?

First of all, RFID is not a single electronic device but a combination of a tag/transponder, a reader/interrogator along with an antenna, and a piece of software within the reader. These tags are available in the forms of stickers and circuit boards while readers are electronic devices capable of sending out signals to the tags and reading/writing data from or to them.

RFID Tags and Readers - SparkFun Electronics
Data and Energy Transfer in an RFID system

A reader, first of all, sends out the electromagnetic waves, powering up the circuit of a tag. The tag then sends out stored data to the reader which is decoded accordingly. RFID tags commonly used today require no active power source and sends information to the reader upon request only. These kinds of tags are named passive tags and are cost-efficient production-wise and operation-wise. Other types of tags either use active power sources like batteries and send out stored information continuously or upon request.

Common Uses
RFIDs are most commonly used nowadays for hassle-free inventory tracking in retailers and warehouses. Another use of this technology is commonly seen in supermarkets as anti-theft measures, where an item is provided with a passive RFID tag, normally in form of a sticker, that can be detected by the readers at gates. If an item is unpaid for at the counter and left with, the readers at the gate sound an alarm. Another common use is wireless payments such as Apple Pay or debit cards embedded with NFCs.

Other use cases include RFID attendance systems, RFID card based lock systems,

Uses in Agriculture
RFIDs have been used in the agriculture and food industry for years. Mainly, the livestock industry has been using this technology in form of ear tags to keep track of the data about specific livestock, resulting in better management practices and increased profitability.

In the case of the food industry, it has also been used for commodity tracing, where information about a batch of agricultural produce is stored in a tag. This helps the suppliers and markets to keep track of the date at which the batch was harvested, making it easier for the post-harvest management of these commodities.

Advantages and Disadvantages
For starters, this technology can be as cheap as printing labels and can be excessively pricey depending upon the kind of tag. Keeping the price factor aside, replacing this technology with old-school barcodes can save a significant amount of time and workforce, resulting in higher profits.

Standard Polyester RFID Tags | RFID Asset Tracking | RFID Tags
An RFID tag in form of a sticker label (coupled with a traditional barcode)

Compared to the printed tracking methods, such as barcodes, the tags are mostly rugged and resistant to wears and tears, ensuring accuracy in inventory keeping.

Another major advantage is that the tags can be coupled with sensors of any kind and information can be acquired and used as per the need. This is one of the major prospects of RFID technology in the agriculture and food industries.

Potential Uses in Agriculture
The use of sensors in commercial agriculture has become widespread in the present day. Farms have been using moisture sensors, temperature sensors, humidity sensors, etc. to better identify and manage the factors involved in the production process.

With the development of technology, the ways of collecting real-time data from the field have become cheaper and convenient. This has paved a way for the development of precision agriculture. In one study, the researchers coupled an Ultra High-Frequency semi-passive RFID chip with a temperature sensor to study the difference between leaf temperature and surrounding temperature. This enabled them to identify the drought stress in the crop, hence having enough data for an optimized and automated irrigation plan for the crops, reducing resource waste and manual labor.

Nowadays, a number of biosensors are being produced, which are capable of detecting compounds such as ethylene and carbon dioxide, which are the key identifiers in post-harvest management of perishable commodities. These sensors fitted with semi-passive or active RFID tags have been used in many cases to provide real-time data in the cold chain. The data are being used to modify the conditions such as temperature and humidity to increase the shelf-life of these commodities, hence increasing profit.

With the increasing use and development of this technology, the uses and advantages are limitless. RFIDs have become abundant around us and we’ve been using them knowingly or unknowingly. In the case of Agriculture, the outcome/profit of the industry is unpredictable most of the time no matter what and with the use of proper technology like this one along with suitable management techniques, positive outcomes can be expected.

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