As harvest time nears, the National Cotton Council is reminding industry members to make contamination prevention a day-to-day priority.
Is contamination increasing?
The International Textile Manufacturers Federation’s “Cotton Contamination Survey 2013” shows the level of cottons moderately or seriously contaminated worldwide increased from 23 percent to 26 percent compared to the last survey in 2011. Though U.S. cotton still is considered one of the least contaminated growths, the survey found that plastics, stickiness and seed-coat fragments, along with other foreign materials, are still posing serious challenges to global cotton spinning.
U.S. cotton’s key customers have voiced concerns. At the recent Cotton USA “Shaping Cotton’s Future” conference in Turkey, for example, U.S. participants heard Turkish mill customer reports of lint contamination due to plastics, with black plastics being the predominant problem in U.S. bales. The NCC believes that without continued attentiveness, our hard-earned reputation for providing the world with contamination- free cotton can be lost quickly. Once that reputation is sullied, it may take years to overcome – with the net result possibly being lost premiums for all U.S. cotton.
What are some specific actions to take?
The NCC has asked cotton interest organization leaders to remind those attending upcoming cotton-related meetings – to make contamination prevention a high priority. There are no Cotton Belt regions immune to contamination. We want our producers, ginners and warehousers to make sure potential contaminants do not make their way from fields to gins and from gins into bales – that pure fiber is as important as high yields. A key step, we believe, is making all work crews – whether in the field or at the gin and warehouse – aware of all potential contamination sources and regularly reminding them to be diligent in keeping those items out of fields, seed cotton and baled lint.
As I’ve noted in previous columns, plastics from various sources are a serious contaminant. For example, if cotton is planted in fields where plastic mulched vegetables or vine crops were previously grown or intercropped with cotton, the risk of picking up that plastic during harvest is magnified. Also, wind and flood waters can carry discarded plastic film bags, woven plastic feed sacks and other litter into cotton fields during the season. Cotton twine and other non-contaminating materials should be used for module tie downs. And, when preparing modules for feeding at the gin, proper and complete removal of all module tarps, tarp tie downs and round module wraps must be emphasized. A list of potential contaminants and prevention guidelines are among the resources available on the NCC website’s Quality Preservation page at www.cotton.org/tech/quality/index.cfm.
U.S. cotton’s mill customers are escalating their contamination detection efforts, too. Along with traditional visual inspections, some mills are using in-line foreign material detection technology positioned closer to the bale opening process. This increases the likelihood that contamination will be traced back to a specific bale. And the cost associated with these extra inspections often results in unacceptable outcomes for mills and may affect their future bale sourcing decisions.
Mark Lange is the president and chief executive officer for the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.