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Moisture — A Primary Key To Quality Cotton

round bale formationWhile this article may come out a bit late for some of the cotton harvest, I believe moisture is an important topic to review. It is one of those things we, as ginners, often have a love-hate relationship with. Moisture adds weight and weight is money. The problem is, too much moisture (particularly at harvest or in the bale) can cost you BIG money.

Final Bale Moisture

I don’t want to get too much into the whole bale moisture issue. But suffice it to say, if you are adding any moisture to your ginned cotton, you should be able to monitor that final bale moisture content. Even if you’re not adding any or a significant amount of moisture back, you should keep an eye on your bale moisture.

There are a number of commercial products for your press or even handheld ways of checking or spot-checking your final bale moisture. A quick online search for U.S. Department of Agriculture materials should produce evaluations of how these various systems differ and can be used.

Final bale moisture has been a much more significant issue in the past, and most gins are doing a good job handling it today.

But any discussion on moisture shouldn’t ignore this important aspect. Final bale moisture can have a profound effect down the line from color shift to mold growth. It cannot be ignored.

Seed Cotton Moisture

Seed cotton moisture is really where I want to go with this discussion. Modern John Deere pickers have some form of onboard moisture monitoring. This has given producers a tremendous tool to help preserve the quality of their crop. Despite opinions to the contrary, gins cannot make quality better, but they can screw it up. No matter how good the cotton fiber is, if it is harvested wet, the quality will deteriorate rapidly.

USDA’s studies on traditional modules show how cotton above 12.5% moisture will deteriorate quickly, costing up to $45 per bale. We don’t have good data on round modules, but anecdotally they seem to be even more sensitive to excess moisture than traditional modules.

Cotton harvested wet in round modules seems to deteriorate faster than in traditional modules, but there is no scientific proof of that. It has been proven that harvesting below 12.5% will better preserve round module quality (withstand the elements) than traditional modules.

All that is to say that moisture management seems to have shifted from the gin to the producer. Cotton Incorporated recently posted a short publication on its Cotton Cultivated page that outlines these issues. It is a good summary of the state of research and the cost of too much moisture.

All the traditional rules of thumb still apply. Don’t harvest when there’s dew on the lint. If the seed cotton isn’t springy when squeezed, or if the seed doesn’t crack when bitten, it is probably too wet to harvest.

Producer/Ginner Communication

We all know we don’t live in an ideal world. We can’t control the rain or tropical weather or sunshine. The perfect harvest conditions rarely exist. In these cases, communication between the producer and the ginner can be key. If the producer knows the cotton was harvested wet, letting the ginner know can help minimize a bad situation.

Onboard moisture measurement is just another tool that can help both the ginner and the producer minimize the havoc that excess moisture can wreak in both the seed cotton and in the bale.

Dusty Findley, CEO of the Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association, contributed this article. Contact him at 706-344-1212 or dusty@southern-southeastern.org.

Bale Packaging Survey Results

round bales, forrest city, arkansas

Photo by Vicky Boyd

The Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee met this fall to discuss and review the results of the bale packaging mill survey conducted in cooperation with Cotton Council International. Through a self-administered online survey, 167 contacts at various mills and manufacturers responded from mid-May through mid-June. Visit https://bit.ly/3obG2Tf for a PDF version of the survey results.

The survey asked for preferences of bale bagging and strapping, bale patching material, tagging materials, bale head closure practices, and recyclability/sustainability. The topic of contamination also was included by asking for comparisons of U.S. contaminant levels with those of competing growths and for preference of the contaminant color that is easiest to detect and remove. In addition, mills were asked if they had any bale handling safety education programs in place.

Bagging, Strapping And Tags

According to the survey, preferences for bale bagging/strapping materials varied by region. More than half of the responses preferred cotton bale bagging, mentioning that it was not a source of contamination and was considered sustainable and easy to use.

However, of the mills that preferred cotton bagging, 71% said they would not pay a premium for it. Of the responses indicating they would pay a premium, most would not pay more than 1% extra. Just over one-third of respondents preferred PE film bagging.

Only 8% preferred woven polypropylene, although responses from certain regions suggested woven polypropylene bags provided the best protection.

Mills and manufacturers tended to prefer polyethylene terephthalate strap to wire ties, 62% to 34%, respectively. PET straps are reported easier to work with and safer to handle. Results showed wire ties were slightly more durable and less likely to contaminate the bale but aren’t as safe or as easy to work with.

Adhesive tags are preferred to paper hang tags, 78% to 13% respectively. Cotton twine was the preferred bale head closure method with zip ties being the second-best choice, 54% to 24%. Half of mills and manufacturers preferred polyethylene sleeves for the bale patching material. One third preferred “cling wrap” style patching material while adhesive plastic tapes were least preferred.

Contamination Colors

Contamination responses were positive for the United States compared to most other countries. Across all growths, Indian and West African growths were most often mentioned as containing high levels of contamination. The United States is considered to have slightly more contamination than Australia but not as much as Brazil.

U.S. and Australian growths were considered to have decreasing amounts of contamination. Additionally, the survey asked which contamination colors were the easiest for mills to detect and remove. Results indicated light blue was most preferred, followed by pink, green and then yellow.

It is anticipated at the next JCIBPC meeting in February that these survey results will be considered again. If you have any questions or comments regarding the results, contact Lauren Krogman at lkrogman@cotton.org.