U.S. Still Struggles with Contaminated Cotton
From Cotton Grower Magazine – March 2015
While contaminated cotton may seem like an issue that only affects the downstream segments of the cotton industry, leaders at the National Cotton Council say that simply is not the case. In fact, the causes and solutions to cotton contamination are found on the farm.
And, as Dale Thompson of the NCC said at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, growers have a vested financial interest in solving this nagging problem.
“This is something that certainly affects the bottom lines of your growers,” said Thompson. “This is not a new problem.”
According to Thompson, yarn spinners have shared their thoughts in no uncertain terms. If they receive contaminated cotton from a specific source, they simply won’t return to that source for supply in the future.
“Their message has been, if we get into an area that has bad results because of improper harvesting practices or ginning practices, we won’t go back,” Thompson said. “There is not a price discount that will equate to those contamination problems, because it’s not just the value of the goods, it’s the damage you’ve done to your customers that is very hard to repair.
“It’s difficult to undo the damage that you’ve caused whenever your cotton is seen as a potential contaminant.”
Although cotton contamination has been a problem for decades, recently introduced technology has added new challenges to detection and prevention. Plastic is the most frequent foreign contaminate plaguing cotton, although oil, grease and various types of garbage found in the cotton field have also been detected.
In addition to removing trash from cotton fields prior to harvest, Thompson said there are steps growers can take to safeguard against the problem.
“Whether we’re talking about conventional modules or whether we’re talking about the new round modules, both of them require vigilance around the module feeder,” Thompson said. “Make sure that plastics and pieces of module tarps or other types of farm materials don’t wrap around those cylinders to be beaten off into small pieces and get into one grower’s cotton – or possibly impact the grower who is ginned after that with a perfectly clean field that may get flagged because they found some foreign material in his cotton.”
There are signs that suggest U.S. growers are trending in the right direction in terms of reducing contamination, according to recent ITMF surveys. Thompson said the ultimate goal is to work towards “zero contamination.”