A LARGE-scale trial of electronic wool data recording and wool bale identification and monitoring will be undertaken in WA during spring shearing.
The trial will involve 50,000 electronic radio frequency identification (RFID) bale tags to be used by WA woolgrowers and wool broking companies – enough for at least five weeks of spring trading at the Western Wool Centre (WWC) – in conjunction with a new wool data recording and storage program.
Australia Wool Exchange (AWEX) chief executive officer Mark Grave was in Perth two weeks ago talking to woolgrowers, brokers and buyers about participating in the trial.
It was originally scheduled for earlier this year, but is now expected to start in August.
Mr Grave said AWEX’s WoolClip software program, designed for use on Windows PCs, laptops and other devices in woolsheds to create an electronic mob book, tally book, wool book, woolclasser specification sheets, national wool declaration and other reports, will be rolled out just ahead of the large-scale eBale RFID bale tag trial.
WoolClip and eBale have been under intense development for the past three years with AWEX aiming to produce an electronic bale identification tag to link to its electronic data storage for a target price of less than US$1 per unit – wool is traded internationally in US dollars hence the target price focus.
Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) launched its equivalent version of WoolClip, known as the eSpeci tool, in March as the first stage of its controversial WoolQ digital wool marketing platform, previously known as the Wool Exchange Portal.
The value of AWI’s move into this field, which is partly funded by a wool levy, has been questioned by some woolgrowers because they claim similar programs already exist.
AWI’s eSpeci tool, which has also been in development for three years as part of WoolQ, was tested in New South Wales and Victorian shearing sheds and is a unique program and mobile phone app, but makes use of AWEX identification codes and specifications for wool appraisal.
AWEX’s WoolClip and eBale use proprietary technology adapted to the wool industry.
They are intended to take WoolClip a stage further than the eSpeci tool currently, by linking stored electronic data on wool to actual bales at any location along the supply chain via individual eBale RFID tags assigned to that wool.
The aim is to create an accessible wool shed-to-end user digital record of which flock the wool came from, grown by which registered woolgrower, who classed it and their appraisal, what the test results were, which broker handled its sale, who purchased it and for what price and when it was delivered to the client for processing.
“What we are looking to do is roll out part of our WoolClip project which is electronic specification and that really involves being able to use it as part of a suite of tools – to be able to use it on farm in a shed to collect and record the information that creates the specification,” Mr Grave said.
“You combine that with the eBale RFID tag and you’ve got a traceable product.
“For the past 18 months to two years or so and on-going, it looks as though for all the right reasons traceability is becoming an important part of the industry – it’s about provenance, it’s about the integrity of what’s being produced, traded and transported.
“We have quite a few countries where overseas processors of wool are looking for a more traceable system.
“Certainly the Europeans have been at the forefront of that, but no doubt China will join them and be involved as well.”
Mr Grave said WoolClip and eBale were also expected to resolve shortcomings of the current paper-trail record system.
“Most complaints we get are about poor handwriting and illegible wool specification sheets from classers or doubling up on or missed bale numbers,” Mr Grave said.
“The aim is to eliminate basic information problems by using an electronic system that only permits accurate recording of information.”
He said eBale tags had been tested on a small scale at woolstores and at wool buyers’ warehouses in Europe and China to ensure they survived the supply chain journey – including dumping, where three bales are compressed and banded together as one for loading into shipping containers for export.
The small trials had also established tags could be read from more than two metres, either as a truck passed between fixed readers at a warehouse or by hand-held units.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes, we’ve been speaking to brokers about how they can participate in the project for eBale,” said Mr Grave during a visit to the WWC.
“The key part of the project that will run here (in WA) is a large scale trial.
“We’re looking at using 50,000 RFID tags, which is significant.
“It’s a matter of getting the project up and running which we expect will be in six-eight weeks.
“I think we will learn a lot in the first four weeks of the trial.
“There’s a number of different aspects to this, the brokers and warehouses haven’t had to work with this technology before so they will be looking at how best they can apply it to their business.“
On farm it’s a new source of information that hopefully improves the integrity of the product, so everybody is coming into this project as a novice.
“We’re very hopeful of our expectations and that it will deliver what the industry is looking for.”
Mr Grave said WA was always earmarked for the large-scale trial because “it’s a really good representation of every section of the national industry in the one State”.
He said AWEX had first started looking at electronic information storage and tracing 22 years ago.“
In that time the technology has come a long way, the price of technology has come down considerably – it’s not only cheaper, it’s better,” Mr Grave said.
“So what we want to do is use it in combination with smart phones, the internet and software programs which are a lot more affordable.
“It’s about taking all the benefits of the past 22 years and adapting them to the wool industry – a traditional industry – and taking it a giant leap forward into the future.”