The cotton plant produces much more than just nature’s most demanded fiber. High quality cottonseed cooking oil is used in many popular snack foods, and the plant’s residue (gin byproduct) left after ginning is used for everything from fertilizer for flower beds to hydromulch that promotes grass growth while preventing soil erosion.
Any way you want to look at it, the multi-faceted cotton plant has an impressive and increasingly sustainable value chain.
When Texas A&M researcher, Dr. Keerti Rathore, announced that he had successfully used a powerful gene-silencing mechanism developed for cancer research – Ribonucleic Acid Interference (RNAi) – to reduce gossypol levels in cottonseed while allowing them to be retained in the plant as a natural pest deterrent, this groundbreaking news positioned cottonseed for expansion into the food market.
“Since 1993, Cotton Incorporated has funded a great deal of cooperative research related to eliminating gossypol in cottonseed, and we are more than excited that this advancement holds the potential to open up new and varied food and feed markets, which should ultimately increase the value of cottonseed,” explains Dr. Kater Hake, Vice President, Agricultural and Environmental Research, Cotton Incorporated.
Circle Of Utilization/Sustainability
The successful use of RNAi technology has led to a New Mexico field of glandless cotton, which will be ginned by the USDA Gin Lab in Las Cruces. The glandless whole cottonseed will be taken to the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Experiment Station where a pilot plant crushing facility is being built.
“Glandless cottonseed is being used to demonstrate that the elimination of gossypol provides an opportunity to produce high-value foods for humans as well as animals – especially in the area of aquaculture, explains Tom Wedegaertner, Director, Cottonseed Research and Marketing, Cotton Incorporated. “This increases the overall value of cotton.”
Once crushed, the oil will then be further refined into cooking oil to be used to fry food in the cafeteria at NMSU.
“After this stage, we’ll take the used oil back to the Experiment Station where it will be converted into biodiesel to run the station’s irrigation pumps,” says Wedegaertner. “At this point, the ‘circle’ will be complete and will also reinforce a strong message of sustainability.”
Although the circle will be complete, the research project will continue when the protein, which was also squeezed out during the crushing process, will be used to feed shrimp in an aquaculture experiment that is already underway at NMSU.
“Those shrimp will be harvested and sold to NMSU students who eat at the on-campus cafeteria,” says Tracey Carrillo, Ph.D, Assistant Director of Campus Farms, at the NMSU Ag Experiment Station.
Carrillo is hoping to showcase some of the shrimp during a “Shrimp Feast” for NMSU Department Heads and other faculty.
“The long-range goal of this research project is to increase the overall economic value of the entire cotton plant,” says Wedegeartner.
“This increased value for cotton byproducts will hopefully go a long way toward helping stabilize cotton production for our textile customers while simultaneously increasing cotton’s overall profitability,” he adds.
The Cotton Board, which administers Cotton Incorporated’s Research and Promotion Program, contributed to this report.