The system uses a global positioning system on the harvester to keep track of where the cotton in every module was harvested. As the cotton is transferred from harvester to boll buggy to module building, an identification number is sent wirelessly. That information is eventually compiled with the bale sample data from the classing office which enables a producer to backtrack to where in the field each bale was grown.

"The system can track harvester A and its harvested basket No. 276, for example, all the way to the module and the subsystem on the module building will then send a wireless message with that basket number and the module number back to the harvester's subsystem," Thomasson said. "The overall system also can handle multiple harvesters in a field, even when they dump into a common module builder."

He said the automated system also uses radio frequency identification – similar to the plastic tags on retail items that cause an alarm if not removed before exiting a store. This device automatically identifies which vehicle is dumping cotton so the busy farmer does not have to stop to input data about the harvester.

"Whereas most U.S. cotton used to be sold to domestic textile mills, most of it now is exported to Asian markets where fiber quality presents a bigger issue than ever before and where cotton competes with polyester," Thomasson said. "Polyester fibers are exactly the same because they are factory made. In cotton, there is a lot of variability. So for cotton to compete well with polyester, the fiber has to be good quality. Asian buyers want it all to be uniform."

For consumers, good quality fibers ultimately lead to a better product, he said.

Thomasson said the Wireless Module Tracking System is not yet commercially available but could be adapted by cotton harvest equipment manufacturers either as a built-in option on new models or as an add-on for existing models.

Tarpley and Thomasson agreed that wireless technology could be tapped for these and additional farming activities to help make management decisions that lead to better prices to the grower and better products for consumers.

ka-phillips@tamu.edu