New technology continues to upgrade farmers' ability to document their operations. The latest: bar-coded seed bags from Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

Homer, IL, farmer Kent Krukewitt tried the bar-code system last spring. He planted 900 acres of bar-coded corn seed and 300 acres of bar-coded soybean seed.

Bar codes contain detailed information, including batch or lot numbers, says Pioneer's Kirby Wuethrich. “If recorded, this information adds value to recordkeeping and auditing systems for on-farm business analysis, can be used with IP (identity-preserved) grain production, and documents proper stewardship of restricted-use pesticides and seed technologies,” he says.

The technology isn't new to Pioneer. “We've used it since the late '90s to track internal warehousing,” Wuethrich says. “We wanted to test it in the farm market. It's not a service we intend to offer, but we will continue to evaluate the technology as it improves.”

Krukewitt, who grows food-grade corn under contract, says bar coding is one more link in the chain that brings farmers and consumers closer together. “It should enhance the value of the crop,” he says.

He used a bar-code reader with his PDA (personal data assistant) to record the seed he planted, and used another program to map fields in real time. Pioneer assimilated the data into a single electronic file. Krukewitt hopes to find a single software program to integrate the information.

Costs for a PDA-based bar-coding/field-mapping system can run as little as $1,500, says Wuethrich.

“The idea is still ahead of its time, but it will become more practical as hardware and software develops,” he adds. “It's a simple way to transfer information. It won't be long before there's a bar code on virtually every input product we buy.”

And the timing seems good. “After StarLink, end users are asking for more documentation. They want as much detail as they can get,” says Krukewitt.

The question remains whether bar-code data will enhance value or just become an additional cost. “We need to find buyers who feel the information is relevant and are willing to pay for it,” says Krukewitt. “If it's not as important as we thought, it may become just another cost of doing business. And, we may have to go for a more specialized market.”

The company that contracts Krukewitt's food-grade corn has shown interest in the bar-code information. But it doesn't need it at this point to sell product. “It's requiring field maps of where the contract corn is planted and the fields around it, and what's planted in them,” Krukewitt says. There is some merit in collecting the data for on-farm use, he adds “More detail is always better. But it will depend on how much of the system I can subsidize with existing technology on my equipment,” he says. “Collecting the additional data now does give me a leg up when the industry decides the data does have value.”