Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) For Enhanced Cotton Module Traceability And Logistics
Cotton, as an agricultural commodity, has long been a leader in the space of traceability. Every year, cotton producers pay the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service $2.30 per bale to have the fiber quality of those bales measured and made available in a database. At the Southern Cotton Ginners Annual Meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this year, Cotton Incorporated’s Dr. Ed Barnes gave a presentation to help pull together why this traceable data has such a tremendous value potential.
John Deere introduced its new, round module-building cotton harvester more than 10 years ago. Now round modules make up most of the cotton processed by gins in many regions of the United States. With that level of adoption, Barnes believes the time has come to take advantage of a key feature of those round modules — RFID tags.
Escape The Paper Ticket
Every round module created by that harvester contains four RFID tags and an added external tag that uniquely identifies the module with data such as GPS coordinates from where it was made, moisture content, weight and harvest area.
Over the past five years, Cotton Incorporated has funded a demonstration with the USDA-ARS gin lab in Lubbock to allow the option to use only the RFID tag to track the cotton from the field throughout the ginning process without adding other tags or spray paint. Additionally, ownership information is only entered once.
“RFID tags and data automation are beginning to allow growers to break their reliance on paper tickets to track cotton from the field to the gin,” Barnes said.
This project has involved the generation of many software tools that have been developed in an open-source environment. They are freely available to gins as well as commercial software companies supporting the ginning industry. There is also an Android app in the Google Play store that can be used to scan the code on round modules using the device’s camera by pairing it with a Bluetooth RFID scanner.
An open-source software has been evaluated at Tanner & Co. Gin in Louisiana. The test system included an antenna at the weighbridge, where modules entered the gin, that scanned the RFID tag’s serial number. There were also scanners at the module feeder and bale press.
One computer recorded the serial numbers going into the module feeder and the PBI numbers coming out at the bale press. After the season, the gin operator aligned the starting and ending modules using a mass balance to link modules and bales.
“A numbering standard is one small piece of the puzzle to bring all this together for the industry,” Barnes said.
Analyzing Yield Variability
Another benefit that comes from linking the RFID tag to the bales’ IDs is the possible creation of “quality maps” of the field. For example, North Carolina State University engineers found variations in micronaire were closely tied to yield variability within the same field.
During the 2020 season, University of Georgia engineers found fields where only part of the bales received a seed coat fragment call, and other bales from the same field did not. There is hope that by examining management practices and variations in things like soil type and elevation, new insights will be gained into what a producer can do to get the highest quality cotton possible.
Barnes concluded his presentation by recognizing the major strides made in RFID data management systems in the past two years, but also acknowledged some challenges to overcome before we see wide-spread adoption of this emerging technology.
“We have to have grower buy-in to capture the most value out of RFID technology,” Barnes said. “There will have to be changes to the ginning process. Many producers are still using conventional modules, and there are significant technology support issues we’ll have to overcome.”
For more information on RFID module management, see the web page https://www.cottoninc.com/cotton-production/ag-resources/harvest-systems/rfid-tracking/.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information on the gin data project with Statistical Analysis Systems that is continuing in 2022.
Stacey Gorman is the Cotton Board’s director of communications. Contact her at email@example.com.