ELECTRONIC bale tags recording which farm wool comes from and who classed it, as well as a description and specification, cannot come soon enough for Elders Western Australian wool manager Danny Burkett.
“I just can’t wait, electronic tagging will stop a lot of (industry supply chain) problems, improve efficiency and save everyone some money,” Mr Burkett told 12 trainee wool classers touring Elders show floor and wool store last week.
As reported in Farm Weekly last week, the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX), which operates the Western Wool Centre (WWC) at Bibra Lake, will trial an e-Bale radio frequency identification (RFID) tag next year in WA.
The operational proof-of-concept trial will see the RFID tag used on about 40 per cent of next year’s clip sold through the WWC.
It has already been tested to withstand the shearing shed-to-shipment supply chain – including dumping, where two or three bales are pressed into one for containerisation.
Mr Burkett told the trainee classers – all experienced shed hands completing a block of classes at South Regional TAFE Narrogin campus for their Certificate IV in wool classing – he believed electronic tagging would be widely used within five years.
“You’ll be classing wool with an iPad in your hand,” Mr Burkett said.
“The (electronic classer’s specification sheet) input program won’t accept information that is outside of the industry standard parameters.
“If you’ve got a heavy bale you won’t be able to input that weight, the system won’t let you – you’ll have to sort the problem out in the shed, which is where it should be sorted.
“What is the biggest cost to our industry? It is overweight bales,” he said.
The trainee classers and course lecturer Rob Carter had earlier toured the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA) and Elders’ main wool store.
At the wool store they were told overweight bales are so common a worker is employed to take wool out of bales weighing more than 204 kilograms and place it in other bales from the same line with the same specification to keep weights under the limit.
“I reckon with 75pc of the wool clips we receive, there is a problem with them – duplicate bales, mis-described bales, not enough bales, too many bales (specification sheet numbers not matching delivered numbers), you name it,” Mr Burkett said.
“Every issue that comes through the door is a problem, every problem takes time to rectify and that costs money.”
Electronic tags recording a contents description, specification and traceable history were expected to significantly reduce frustrating wool classing and pressing documentation errors, Mr Burkett said.
“As a truck arrives at the (wool) store a scanner will read and record all the tags as it drives in – we will know from that information exactly what we’ve got before it’s unloaded,’’ he said.
“The tags will not only record the specifications, they will record the history of the wool back to where it came from and who classed it.
“In the future, when a Chinese woollen mill is producing a nice white cloth and suddenly they start getting a black thread through it, they will be able to trace that wool from an individual bale back through the system to the shipment, back to the point of sale, back to the broker who sold it, back to the grower and back to whoever classed it.
“The million dollar question then will be who is responsible for compensating the Chinese mill?
“I don’t know the answer to that one,” he said.
Mr Burkett showed examples of wool classing problems that prevented some lines of wool going to auction last week.
They including a mismatched two-bale crutchings line and a 16-bale fleece line with significant variation between bales.
“One has long-staple lightly stained crutching wool, the other has short-staple heavily urine-stained wool,” he said of the two-bale lot.
“That classer has said ‘put those two together, send them up and they’ll sell them’ – no.
“It should have come as two individual (single bale) lots – long combing stains and short stains – for two different markets, the combing market and the carding market.
“The more information you can give us on the (specifications sheet) the better it is for us, the more money your client makes, the more likely they are to retain sheep which means we all stayed employed,” Mr Burkett told the trainee classers.
“This grower has paid for a test result – so far it’s cost him $90 to test those two (bales) – we’ve put it out on the floor, it’s meant to be sold this week but we can’t sell it, so we are going to have to retest these individually.
“It’s going to cost the grower more money and we are going to hold his money for an extra week until we get the test results back.”
To achieve best price, the 16-bale lot should be reclassed but that would be a significant extra cost for the wool grower, he said.
The best he could do for the grower was to offer it as a mixed lot and have each bale opened and displayed so potential buyers could see the extent of the wool mix.
Because it was classed as one line, it could only be offered as one line, he said.
“Whereas this (longer wool in some bales) could go into just about every order in the market bar the top two or three, now it can’t go anywhere because of how mixed (the line) is.
“We have to tell the grower you’ve had a job done that is not satisfactory or to the industry standards.
“It all comes down to how professional you (as wool classers) are in the shed.
“I say this to every classer I see, the job that you do is the most important part of the whole chain.
“You get it wrong and it’s wrong all the way through the system.”
The auction selling system was also explained to the trainee classers who watched part of a sale.
While electronic tagging will eliminate some pre-sale problems, there will still be a need to display wool samples on the show floor for buyers to inspect before and after sale, Mr Burkett said.
“We’ve told the exporter everything they need to know about it (with comprehensive wool test specifications and a description of each lot in the sale catalogue) but we still need to put the sample on show.
“We can tell the exporter what we think it is, but every exporter wants to come and have a look for themselves because wool is subjective,” he said.
Once they complete the course and gain their certificates, the trainees are required to work with a registered wool classer on clips totalling 50 bales before they can become a registered classer.