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Australian Cotton Gin Tracks Product to Boost Efficiency

RFID tags embedded in bundles of unprocessed cotton bolls help Southern Cotton track when it receives, stores and gins those bundles, and the company then shares that data with growers.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 09, 2015

Ever since it opened for business three years ago, Australian cotton gin operator Southern Cotton has employed radio frequency identification to track the cotton it receives, stores and processes, and has shared that information with growers to make the ginning process and delivery to customers more efficient and error-free. Southern Cotton is now expanding the solution to enable its employees, as well as growers, to access the collected RFID data via an app on their smartphone or tablet.

Southern Cotton was founded in 2011 by a group of New South Wales cotton farmers in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA). The cotton industry was growing in the area, and the farmers saw a need for a local gin that could provide efficient services for growers, who had been transporting their cotton to the nearest gin some 400 kilometers (250 miles) away.

The John Deere 7760 Cotton Picker has a built-in RFID reader to link each unit of harvested cotton to its farmer, field, date, time, latitude and longitude.
After being harvested, the cotton is packed and wrapped to form modules—large, cylindrical bundles of field cotton, composed typically of 50 percent seed, 40 percent cotton and 10 percent unusable trash, and weighing as much as 2,700 kilograms (6,000 pounds) apiece. The group found that passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology could make the ginning process more efficient, says Kate O'Callaghan, Southern Cotton's general manager, by creating an automatic record of each module as it was brought to the company, stored and then ginned prior to being picked up by the appropriate customer.

John Deere already provides EPC Gen 2 UHF passive RFID tags in the yellow plastic sheeting that its picking machines automatically wrap around a cotton module at the time of harvest, and its 7760 Cotton Picker comes with an onboard RFID reader. The tags, embedded in the wrap, are intended to enable harvesters to track the round module from the field to the gin. The John Deere onboard reader and computer link the tag ID automatically with the farmer, field, date, time, latitude and longitude of the module's production entered into the picker's software.

The grower can receive the RFID data captured during harvesting in the form of a text file, which is stored on a compact flash card or thumb drive plugged into the onboard computer, or on a cloud-based server hosted by John Deere, via a cellular connection.

Although many growers use the 7760 Cotton Picker and the plastic wrap with built-in RFID tags—a system known as the Harvest Identification Cotton (HIDC)—some older gins do not yet use RFID, O'Callaghan says. Southern Cotton's founders decided that their ginning operations would benefit from using the RFID tags, as would the growers.

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