Believe it or not, a simple plastic bag from the local Wal-Mart can be a cotton farmer’s No. 1 enemy. That’s because it’s the most common contaminant.
But it’s not the only one. Any number of residues, roadside debris and plastics can ride along at harvest. And if these contaminants make it all the way to the mill, they can become costly indeed.
In fact, according to an International Textile Manufacturers Federation survey tallied contamination-related losses as much as $200 million per year worldwide. And an IMTF survey in 2013 says mills estimated 26% of inbound cotton was moderately or seriously contaminated.
Some mills even deploy expensive contamination detection strategies, according to Dale Thompson, NCC manager of marketing and processing technology.
“For example, a sophisticated unit that is a tailor-made system for the separation of foreign parts would cost from $250,000 to $500,000 per unit after instillation and training,” he explains. “For a 40,000 bale-per-year yarn mill, per-bale costs would be approximately $5 to $10.”
That has both the National Cotton Council (NCC) and the National Cotton Ginners Association (NCGA) on the march once again this harvest season to remind cotton farmers, gins and warehouses to be wary of contamination at every step of the supply chain.
For farmers, the NCC has developed the following seven best practices for keeping cotton “contamination free.”
- Prior to harvest, create a watch list for foreign materials, including plastics, roadside debris, grease or oily residues, and even accumulated leaves, sand or dust.
- Inspect fields and remove any materials that a harvester could pick up.
- Clean and power wash all harvest equipment.
- During harvest, use the watch list and have the entire harvest crew on watch for potential contaminations.
- Inspect harvest equipment daily for hydraulic leaks or grease that could come in contact with seed cotton.
- Do not build modules or bales where potential contaminants could be picked up with them when they are moved.
- Don’t identify modules or bales using a permanent marker.
For more educational information about quality preservation from the NCC, visit http://www.cotton.org/tech/quality/index.cfm.