Staying on Track

Round cotton modules ready to be picked up by module trucks. Photo Credit: Jayci Cave

Plains Cotton Cooperative Association is improving technological innovations in the cotton industry. Most recently, PCCA has developed a module tracking and module truck tracking system to help ginning operations run more efficient.

In the past, there was a problem tracking cotton modules from the field to the cotton gin, and farmers were often unaware when the gins picked up their modules or when their cotton was ginned. Many times, farmers would have to go to the gin to ask where their modules were in the ginning process, and the gin personnel couldn’t answer their questions.

Cotton gins also had a difficult time knowing where their truck drivers were or if they were in the right location to pick up modules. Gins would hand their truck drivers huge paper maps of where a farmer’s cotton module was located, but they weren’t given clear directions on how to get there. This made it really difficult for truck drivers to find a module, which sometimes resulted in them becoming lost and having to call the farmer or gin to ask the location of their cotton modules.

All of this resulted in cotton gins losing time and money. Gins spend thousand of dollars a day to operate, and when a truck driver can’t deliver modules to the gin yard in a timely manner, they lose money.

In 2013, Ocho Gin located in Gaines County, Texas, was looking for a solution to the problems they were experiencing, so they approached PCCA for a solution. PCCA immediately began developing a software program called Module Tracking that could finally help Ocho Gin solve their problems locating a farmer’s cotton modules.

PCCA Applications Programmer, John Duncan, graduated from Texas Tech University with a computer science degree and played a major role working on the Ocho Gin project.

“Before module tracking, it wasn’t very user friendly.”

Duncan and a team of programmers decided they wanted to provide a way for gins to track their modules from the field until it was ginned. Before, gins would keep module information from the field to the gin on spreadsheets or even paper.

“When you are ginning 40,000 to 50,000 bales of cotton, that kind of thing is hard to keep track of on just spreadsheets,” said Duncan.

When a farmer calls in his modules, gin personnel can then log in to the web-based program and enter the farmer’s modules into a call-in screen. The farmer can now use an online form on their smartphone to log their call-in instead of having to actually call the gin and show their GPS location. As a result, gin personnel can use the mapping software to easily identify farms.

Module truck dropping off round cotton modules at Lubbock Cotton Growers.

Duncan and the programmers also integrated their module tracking software directly with the existing truck scale systems at gins to allow better management of modules on the gin yard. With this benefit, gin personnel can now tell farmers exactly where their cotton modules are in the ginning process.

After the success of the module tracking software, Central Rolling Plains Gin in Roscoe, Texas, approached PCCA and asked if there was a way to create a module truck tracking software that integrated with their current module tracking program. Duncan and his team decided to start integrating a module truck tracking software with their current module tracking program. They decided to add the ability for gins to be able to track their module trucks wherever they were and dispatch their truck drivers to a field instead of using a piece of paper. Giving truck drivers an onboard tablet allowed them to receive the GPS location of cotton modules in a field by using the module tracking software. The gin would send the location information to the truck drivers on the tablet, and all they have to do is use the tablet for directions.

“The drivers get a list of accounts to go to and how many modules there are on that account,” Duncan adds. “Then it shows up on their tablet in the order that the gins want them to go pick them up. As the drivers come in and weigh the modules in, they come off of their list.”

When PCCA came and stepped in and took over some of our problems with tracking modules, it really simplified the way it looks for us in the office. Jerry Butman

Module truck tracking makes it more efficient and effective for both the truck drivers and the gin. With module truck tracking now in place, gins know exactly where truck drivers are at all times and can make sure they are staying on task and on course while they are working. The module truck tracking also helps drivers know exactly where they need to be going when they are trying to locate a field and not become lost.

Lubbock Cotton Growers Gin Manager, Jerry Butman, has really enjoyed PCCA’s new module tracking software.

“When PCCA came and stepped in and took over some of our problems with tracking modules, it really simplified the way it looks for us in the office,” Butman said. “Some of the editing we have to do on the bale counting side just really made that easier…a lot of reports PCCA developed in their program are very easy to run.”

Prior to PCCA providing their module tracking software at Lubbock Cotton Growers, Butman and his gin personnel had to run other programs that were not as user-friendly. According to Butman, they had to set up their own parameters and other programs to just run a module and bale report.

“PCCA’s new module tracking software is user friendly and easy to operate and real easy for our staff to pick up and learn,” Butman adds.

Module tracking also has helped farmers in some ways; they can easily use an app when they are ready to call in their modules.

“When we accept a farmers call-in through the PCCA Member Access app it automatically generates a text back to them, giving them the module numbers we want them to put on the modules themselves. It will also tell the farmers how many modules will be ginned before theirs and so much more information,” Butman said.

Ocho Gin was the first gin to successfully run the module-tracking software in 2012 that Duncan and other programmers helped create. Other gins quickly began following in their footsteps to run the module and truck tracking programs. There are now 44 gins that are using the module-tracking software, and 11 gins that are using the module truck tracking software. Module tracking is a fast growing software, and PCCA plans to work on module tracking projects and other technological advances with John Deere in the future.

“We’ve actually started a project with John Deere. John Deere’s have made some advancements in their harvesters…We actually have already got where if you use a John Deere harvester you can make your call-in automatically into the gin, Duncan said. “Where we’re trying to push John Deere and ourselves is to tie that module with the location the harvester went in the field. Once you’ve done that you can actually tie a bale of cotton to specifically where it came from in your cotton field.”

Gins in the South Plains area could be using module and truck tracking software sometime in the future, which will revolutionize the cotton industry.