Will runs a sheep station with 8,000 merinos. New QR codes mean he can trace every fleece

The adoption of QR codes to track wool bales through the supply chain is being seen by the wool industry as a game changer.

Key points:Australia's wool industry has begun trials on e-bales, which track wool through the supply chain electronically using QR codesThe technology is expected to improve efficiency, biosecurity and, in the future it could allow shoppers to see where their clothing comes fromA commercial trial is underway at Alma, a sheep station running 8,000 merino ewes

While its use is currently limited to isolating and tracking exotic disease outbreaks in sheep, farmers say the geo-technology could soon see consumers trace the provenance of woollen items from the shelf back to Australian paddocks.

Following on from a successful trial in Tasmania with a superfine wool producer, The Australian Wool Exchange has begun a rollout of e-bale technology that uses QR codes, along with radio frequency IDs (RFIDs) and the WoolClip app, to trace the bales.

The e-bales have begun commercial testing at Alma Station, a sheep producer that runs 8,000 merino ewes near Booligal, in the New South Wales Riverina area. 

A man scans a QR code on a wool bale in a shearing shed
The QR code on an e-bale can be scanned using an iPad or smart phone. (Supplied: Fiona Raleigh, AWEX )

Fiona Raleigh of the Australian Wool Exchange [AWEX] said the initial Tasmanian trial presented a chance to see the technology in action before its adoption on the mainland. 

"Alma Station's a large, commercial contract team. A very, very busy shed," Ms Raleigh said. 

"So it was really good to see it operating in a situation where the classer and wool presser had never used this technology before, and they were able to very quickly adapt to it.

A white woollen jumper on a rack of clothes in a shop.
In the future QR code technology could allow shoppers to trace where a woollen jumper comes from. (ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

"The pack is read with the QR code with a phone or a device in the shed, and that QR code is a unique number that is allocated to that bale."

In the future, the technology could allow consumers to see the provenance of woollen products.

It may be possible soon for a shopper on the other side of the world to scan a QR code on the label of a woollen jumper and see that the wool comes from a sheep station in the Riverina.

"We have a geo-location, when that bale was pressed, the farm it was pressed on … that information as data is captured electronically and quite simply," Ms Raleigh said.

Crucial biosecurity tool 

A man in a singlet uses an iPad on top of a wool bale in a shearing shed
Wool presser Josh Curran using an iPad to scan the QR code attached to each wool pack. (Supplied: Fiona Raleigh, AWEX)

But for now, the technology will address the very practical need to improve efficiency through the supply chain and track wool in the event of an exotic disease outbreak.

"Being able to identify the location of where bales came from would be very important for the continuity of sale of wool" Ms Raleigh said. 

"The other thing is that wool sheds are notoriously busy environments where there are mistakes made.

"Ideally capturing this information electronically will [mean] you can't have a duplicate bale number." 

Young farmers could lead the charge 

Alma Station's Will Morphett said the e-bales were another tool for wool growers. He said the traceability offered improved biosecurity and could increase marketing opportunities.

"It took very little input as a wool grower to get the new system going," Mr Morphett said. 

"Once you've created an online account and input the mob details, it's over to the wool classer and presser to manage the bales in the wool shed."

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Alma Station's wool classer Joel Higgins said in time he could see the technology becoming commonplace, especially with younger farmers beginning to lead the charge.

"At first, like most things that are new, it took a little getting used to," Mr Higgins said.

"But once we got a few bales out and got into a bit of a rhythm the presser and I worked well together. It was pretty straight-forward to use."

Posted 1 Nov 20211 Nov 2021Mon 1 Nov 2021 at 6:08am, updated 1 Nov 20211 Nov 2021Mon 1 Nov 2021 at 6:20amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp


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