Contamination Prevention Remains a Priority

I have written multiple articles about contamination — which also has received a focus at several recent industry meetings — because U.S. cotton is facing fierce competition from other growths and man-made fibers.
Unfortunately, we continue to receive more than a few complaints, along with samples of contaminated fabric, from our textile mill customers. Most of the samples are plastic films, among them irrigation pipes, ditch liners, sheet mulches used in vegetable production, shopping bags and round module wrap. Other significant plastic contaminants are monofilament yarns, twines and similar products.

A growing number of spinners have sophisticated systems in place that can detect most, but not all, of these contaminants. These systems often cost several hundred thousand dollars, but each system’s maximum capacity is only 40 to 60 cotton bales in a 12-hour shift.

I am pleased to report that all three of our U.S. ginning laboratories, in collaboration with other researchers, are investigating innovative methods to detect, separate and extract plastic contamination prior to the ginning process. However, developing practical systems to remove plastic at the gin takes time, and extraction systems will not be accepted at modern high-volume cotton gins until costs come down and throughput goes up.

Have A Good Offense
The best lint contamination defense is a good offense — preventing contaminants from entering seed cotton. With harvest underway in many Cotton Belt areas, the National Cotton Ginners’ Association (NCGA) and the National Cotton Council (NCC) are urging cotton industry members to maintain their focus on contamination prevention.

Website Links To Contamination Prevention Resources
To assist, the NCC created a new “Keep It Clean” Web page that contains links to contamination prevention resources. For example, at are materials that ginners can use in reminding producers to make sure harvest crews watch for and remove from fields any potential seed cotton contaminants. Yes, the picker or stripper may have to stop during harvest to remove shopping bags or pieces of poly tubing, but this is a much better option than hoping that it will be removed at the gin.

Materials on this Web page also remind workers to exercise care when handling conventional modules as covers and tie downs still pose problems. In fact, one contaminant I hoped had been eliminated still is being found – colored baler twine, rope or cord used as a module tarp tie down. I made a few calls and was surprised that hay baler twine threaded through or under a module still is being used in some areas to tie down module covers. As a reminder, never use “plastic” rope or twine to secure module tarps. Only 100 percent cotton ropes or strapping should be used.

The odds are these and other plastic contaminants that end up in the middle of a module will find their way to the textile mill. They may end up damaging finished yarn or fabric and costing those mills hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
Increasingly, efforts are made to trace the contamination back to the source, accompanied by claims for the damages. Even more devastating, though, is a likely loss of markets to competing cottons and/or man-made fibers.

Handle Round Module Wrap Correctly
Over the past three years, the NCGA and the NCC have been especially proactive on a particularly vexing problem — round module wrap being found by mills when bales are opened. As part of the effort to train gin employees, the NCC created a 24-by-18-inch poster in both English and Spanish that describes the techniques for round module handling and wrap removal. The poster is available from the NCC’s contamination prevention web page mentioned above, and it can be requested by calling the NCC at 901-274-9030.

This poster is an excellent companion to another resource available from that Web page —
NCGA’s Round Module Safety, Volume VI, video. I cannot emphasize enough that this video should be viewed by all employees who are involved in transporting, handling or opening round modules.

Harrison Ashley, executive vice president of the National Cotton Ginners’ Association, contributed this article. Contact him at 901-274-9030 or

Cotton’s Calendar
Sept. 21: Staplcotn Annual Meeting, Greenwood, Miss.
Sept. 26: Calcot Ltd. Board of Directors Meeting, Phoenix, Ariz.

Jan. 4-6: Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Dallas, Texas.
Jan. 18-21: Southern Southeastern Annual Meeting,
Charlotte, N.C.
Feb. 10-12: NCC Annual Meeting, Dallas, Texas.
March 3-4: Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, Memphis, Tenn.
April 6-7: Texas Cotton Ginners Association Trade Show,
Lubbock, Texas.
June 6-8: Cotton Incorporated Meeting.
July 10-12: Southern Southeastern Mid-Year Board Meeting,
Marriott Grand Dunes, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Aug. 8-10: Cotton Board/Cotton Incorporated Joint Meeting.

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