Texas A&M University's Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering has signed a mutual collaboration agreement with one of the largest manufacturers of cotton ginning machinery in China.

The agreement with Shandong Swan Cotton Industrial Machinery Stock Co. Ltd. may benefit Texas A&M research and encourage U.S. raw cotton exports to China, in turn helping that country increase its textile exports, said Dr. Calvin Parnell, Regents professor with the biological and agricultural engineering department.

China currently produces 30 million bales of hand-picked cotton annually. It imports about 5 million bales of U.S. cotton per year, but its need for the fiber is growing, Parnell said.

"China has the largest textile industry in the world," he said. "They consume more product than they produce. Most of the (exported) U.S. cotton is exported to China."

At the same time, Parnell said, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station faculty in agricultural and biological engineering have more harvesting, seed cotton storage, transporting and cotton fiber quality research than anyone else in the U.S.

"What attracted them was our expertise in cotton engineering," Parnell said.

Cotton in the U.S. is harvested using either mechanical pickers or strippers. Parnell said one person in China can pick about 200-300 pounds of short-staple cotton in a day. Short-staple cotton has relatively short fibers. By comparison, a mechanical picker can pick about 112,500 to 450,000 pounds in a 12-hour day depending on crop condition.

China now has about 8,000 cotton gins, but it is hoping, with better equipment, to reduce that number to 2,000. Texas has reduced its number of cotton gins from 2,000 in the 1960s to 260 in 2007, due in large part to Texas A&M's engineering efficiency research, he said.

"We're ginning more cotton than we ever have," Parnell said.

According to Parnell, gins in the U.S. did not exceed 20 bales per hour in the 1960s. Sixty bale-per-hour gins are common now.

The agreement calls for the exchange of scientists and specialists for joint research and development programs.

A benefit to Texas A&M is further research funding, Parnell said. In addition, Texas A&M scientists could learn first-hand how to satisfy a major consumer of U.S. cotton.

The agreement was signed in November by Benny Cheung, head of corporate strategy and global development with Swan, and Dr. Gerald L. Riskowski, head of the department of biological and agricultural engineering.