Big Brother In Your Seed Bag? Not Really …

Look out … RFID is slowly creeping into the spotlight. A recent announcement from Monsanto about a test they’re doing with RFID chips — short for Radio Frequency IDentification — and seed bags is a hint that we’re going to see the technology get tested and rolled out in more and more applications, and ag is a logical place for it to go.

Remember a few years ago? Wal-mart created a stir when it talked boldly about moving its tracking and distribution system away from bar coding and toward RFID-based systems. These chips, adhered to merchandise, contain all the information you’d typically find on a bill of lading and more, and can be read by a properly programmed scanner simply by being in the vicinity of a chip.

Consumer press soon started rolling out stories about how people would be able to pay for merchandise by simply walking up to the counter and standing in front of a scanner with merchandise and a credit card, get rung up, charged, and though almost without having to stop for a second. Sounds great, until the follow up stories pondered what Wal-Mart might do with all this purchase information from individual consumers. Much squirming commenced, and much of the development seemed to go underground.

Until now. This year, who could have escaped the Master Card PayPass commercials that poked fun at writers of checks and users of cash? On a personal note, my boss, Jim Sulecki, likes to show off his new Nissan that features push-button start, enabled by the RFID chip built into his keyless remote. And for years, toll roads have had successful automatic pass readers at toll gates to allow traffic to flow without throwing coins into baskets or at surly booth operators.

These sorts of consumer applications and their acceptance with little or no outrage is leading companies to try other sorts of automated applications, so it’s no surprise that Monsanto, a company at its peak and flush with cash, would be investing in seed inventory tools that improve distribution. And whether you like Monsanto or not, its track record would tend to make me think that if it can be done, they will do it.

At this point, the Monsanto program is a pilot, but don’t be surprised if a significant rollout of this technology for seed tracking is in the offing. Frankly, agriculture needs to be exploring this sort of technology, not just for seed but for all inputs.

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