(Sept. 28) MONTEREY, Calif. — Perhaps the biggest topic of discussion at the RFID Fresh seminar in Monterey was the radio frequency identification testing center.

The seminar, which took place on Sept. 21-22, offered visitors tours of the center. The center is sponsored by C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., and NewStar Fresh Foods LLC, Salinas, and is located in 500-square-feet of space provided by NewStar at the company’s Salinas facility.

The space includes a lab area, which features RFID technology from five hardware companies and seven middleware companies, all putting their wares — including hardware, software, RFID tags, readers and printers — to the test in a real world environment.

NewStar also has two doors on its loading bay dedicated to running produce through the RFID systems.

Steve McShane, director of new product development and food safety for NewStar, said the project is also being sponsored in part by the School of Packaging at Michigan State University, which also sponsored the seminar.

McShane added, however, that C.H. Robinson has really been the driving force behind the center.

Vincent LoBue, field manager for LoBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay, Calif., said his company was asked to help run some tests in the center by C.H. Robinson. LoBue is a longtime supplier of oranges and other commodities to C.H. Robinson.

LoBue said his company set up a pallet of oranges to run through the system, and the results were surprising.

Because of their high water content, items like oranges have caused difficulty with RFID readers.

“That’s one of the commodities that has had lower read rates in the past,” LoBue said. “So far (in the testing center), the read rates have been excellent.”

So much so that LoBue said, Bruce Peterson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark., had to ask if they were real. Peterson gave the keynote address at the seminar.

“They were getting read rates of 95-97%,” LoBue said. “In the past with citrus, they are lucky to break 40%.”

But LoBou said getting the technology to work is only part of the battle. The biggest issue companies will be facing is the cost of the RFID tags themselves.

“It’s kind of a chicken or the egg thing,” he said. “Which is going to come first? The price isn’t going to come down until big orders are booked, but when are the big orders going to be booked?”