New Research Technology for the Leafy Greens Industry

Friday, June 18, 2010

Imagine yourself going to the grocery store and scanning the barcode of a head of lettuce with your cell phone. Within moments, a screen pops up on your cell phone detailing where the head was grown, the harvest date, and a recipe to use. This form of technology is not too farfetched thanks to the work of Kurt Nolte, director and Extension agent with the UA Cooperative Extension Service in Yuma County, Arizona.

The University of Arizona Yuma County Cooperative Extension is in the midst of creating the first geo-referenced, field-level precision traceback system in the leafy greens industry. The concept incorporates GPS (global positioning system) and RFID (radio frequency identification) to create a web based database including information during harvest. The project would allow people from the grower, shipper, buyer, and consumer to all access complete information on the internet. Information including: grower name, pest control advisers, irrigators, harvest workers, fertilizer rate, harvest conditions, field names, and yield data.

Kurt Nolte along with Joel Spencer of LittleMunk Media, Inc. designed the prototype system for this year's winter iceberg lettuce harvest. The hardware which includes a laptop, Trimble Pathfinder Pro GPS, Sirit RFID reader, and antenna is valued at approximately $5,000. Last March, the system was field tested for the first time using an iceberg lettuce harvester at Top Flavor Farms in Bard, California.

During the field test 2,000 cartons of lettuce were geo-referenced. Nolte was very pleased with the outcome. Once the GPS signal was found the system worked flawlessly. The system has many benefits ranging from food safety to alerting growers of areas of low production. Eventually the GPS-RFID could be applied to all farm products packed in the field.

Kurt Nolte, Yuma Cooperative Extension