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Farmers and Distributors Try a New Way to Track Hay

The Harvest Tec system, which features a tag applicator mounted on a hay baler, promises to provide hay sellers and buyers with a means of accessing data for each bale, including its origin, date and time of harvest, and moisture content.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 31, 2013

Hay farmers and distributors throughout North America, Europe and Australia are currently using or testing an RFID-based solution for tracking hay bales. The system allows the companies to store and access data regarding a single bale of hay, including its point of origin, date and time of harvest, moisture content, and exact location within a field, as well as any fertilizers used on it.

Harvest Tec, a 30-year-old provider of equipment and products for hay producers, is marketing the solution, which features an RFID tagger that encodes a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag and attaches it to hay during the baling process. The solution also includes fixed, vehicle-mounted and handheld RFID readers for use by distributors, and, in some cases, software to manage the collected read data.

The Harvest Tec portal, featuring a ThingMagic Mercury6 fixed RFID reader, reads a truckload of tagged hay bales.
Harvest Tec began developing the system more than three years ago, says Jeff Roberts, the company's president. The solution, which operates with a variety of hay-baling systems provided by New Holland, AGCO and Case IH, is aimed at hay producers, distributors and buyers—all of whom, Roberts says, would benefit from having accessible data about each individual bale of hay, in order to ensure that all hay delivered is of the type and quality that the buyer or seller believes it to be.

Without such technology, hay buyers or sellers can have little control over the quality and conditions of their bales. The bales tend to look alike, Roberts says, but they are not all the same. Some come from lower-quality hay, have higher moisture content, or include chemicals that a particular buyer might not want. In addition, many bales simply cannot be seen in a large stack of hay being shipped to or from a distributor, or being received by a customer. Sometimes, if a single bale is found to be bad—for example, if a visual inspection reveals it to be too moist—a customer can reject an entire load of product.

For the seller, ensuring that every bale falls into the category required by a buyer—such as a specific age, or exposure to a particular fertilizer—can be equally difficult, as hay bales are delivered to a distributor in truck loads, and are then moved around the facility prior to being sold.

Harvest Tec's solution is intended to bring visibility into the history of every hay bale, so that those in the supply chain can understand the type of product in front of them.

The technology is used to first identify hay in the field during harvesting. Balers are equipped with an RFID tagger containing a ThingMagic Mercury5Me (M5e) RFID reader. The solution employs an Alien Technology passive EPC Gen 2 UHF ALN-9640 Squiggle inlay, integrated in a sheet of vinyl plastic by WS PackagingGroup. The RFID tagger—which measures 16.5 inches by 16.5 inches by 30 inches, and is mounted atop the bale chamber—holds a roll of 850 adhesive vinyl RFID tags. As the bale passes through the chamber, two arms on the tagger lift the twine and wrap a tag around it, applying one tag per bale. As the bale (typically measuring 2 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet) is pushed out of the chamber, it passes under an RFID reader antenna mounted at the chamber's rear. The tagger then encodes a variety of data to the tag's 512-bit user memory, including a bale's serial number, its average moisture amount (as detected by the baler sensor), and the kinds of preservatives used, as well as the hay's field name, bale weight (based on the average weight of the three previous bales, assuming the baler is equipped with a scale) and field position, based on GPS data.

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