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RFID aids in revitalizing valuable and rare Koa tree crops in Hawaii

RFID technology is helping to re-establish lush Koa forests in Hawaii, revitalizing one of the most diverse and valuable hardwoods in the world. In a first-of-its kind application and one of the most unique RFID use cases ever, RFID tags are being placed on young Koa trees to track growth patterns, maintenance history, and to provide a way for investors to own a piece of a Koa forest.

The RFID tree tracking database being developed by Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods (HLH) will allow investors in the HLH Koa reforestation project to track and monitor the progress of their investment in real time. The company embedded about 20,000 RFID tags into its new crop of trees this year, and looks to increase that to 100,000 trees during the next growing season. Within two years HLH will tag at least 250,000 new trees as it moves toward planting 1.3 million Koa trees.

�To our knowledge, there is nobody else doing this on the planet,� says Jeff Dunster, CEO of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods.

The RFID-based system, combined with sophisticated GPS technology and a plantation-wide mapping system, will soon allow investors to use tools like Google Earth to drill down on their specific sustainable lumber investment and to pinpoint their specific stand. HLH is way out in front of the industry on this; company executives expect the rest of the industry to follow suit within the next 10 years.

�This program has taken on a life of its own,� says Dunster, whose company has partnered with the University of Hawaii, which will use the RFID data to track growth trends over the lifetime of the trees, helping to fight tree disease and other issues that sent the Koa into near-extinction.

�The University of Hawaii told us they�ve been looking for help to track data on Koa trees for three or four generations,� says Duster. �They�re thrilled with this program.�

Each Koa tree planted will be equipped with an RFID tag, meaning that each individual tree carries its own computer signature, which will track ownership, growth, maintenance, lumber-yield and pedigree for the tree owner. The GPS/GIS system will locate each tree by an exact set of geographic coordinates, allowing the tree owner to view their trees on maps and by satellite imagery.

Dunster, a former business consultant, wanted to get into a more sustainable and green industry, and the prospect of selling trees was intriguing. However, the required federal securities laws and filings with the SEC can be obtrusive, and often cost $500,000 or more annually.

�We wanted to design an investment commodity that would be totally stand alone but still be part of a project,� says Dunster, �something associated with nature that would not [require] extensive SEC filings and all of that. We had to come up with a way that we could sell these trees so that they�d be individually owned and not group owned. The only way we could do that officially was through a combination of RFID tags and GPS technology.�

As a result, the RFID tracking greatly eases regulatory compliance issues. The HLH project provides the unique opportunity for individuals and institutional investors alike to invest in Koa trees as a sustainable commodity by purchasing specific units. HLH has made it possible for this investment opportunity to be accessible to a wide range of investors and investment vehicles including trusts, IRAs and 401Ks. While this is a 25-year project, profits are realized along the way through thinning and harvesting. HLH is currently offering tree lots for the 2010 planting season.

Trees must be ordered in lots of 100. The current pre-planting price is $6,639 per 100 trees for Koa. One of the reasons for the minimum order is the very nature of the forestry management process. Trees must be pruned and thinned with only the best trees growing to full maturity. With a small number of trees this process can create statistical anomalies in yields.

�This high-tech program will give a level of comfort to forestry investors that has never been available before now,� says Dunster. �Eventually, you�ll find people selling their lots of five-year old Koa trees and so forth, and all that is possible by using RFID tags.�

Dunster says that tracking Koa trees with RFID also opens up opportunities in carbon sequestration. Some financial and energy experts predict that the carbon tracking market will be bigger than the oil market within 10 years. �Again, we couldn�t track any of that information without our RFID tags,� says Dunster.

The HLH Plantation is located 34 miles north of Hilo, above historic Umikoa Village on the slopes of Mauna Kea. The 2,700-acre sustainable forestry project will support the growth of 1.3 million rare tropical hardwood trees, primarily Koa, indigenous only to Hawaii.

For more information: john@rfid24-7.com

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