When it comes to historic significance, quality and economic importance, cotton is still king in the western United States.

It’s no accident that cotton grown in New Mexico, Arizona and California is among the highest quality in the world — for a number of reasons, including years of research and development.

Federal budget proposals within the U.S. Department of Agriculture are aimed at closing a number of research facilities, including the Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory in Las Cruces, N.M., and a similar USDA operation in Lubbock, Texas.

The proposed closing of one of the most important cotton research facilities in the United States, located in Las Cruces, is facing opposition from a variety of interests across the western cotton growing region. Michael White, president of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, said Farm Bureau in New Mexico will mobilize its membership base to oppose the closing of the labs.

“These world-class laboratory facilities not only provide critical research and development, they also keep U.S. cotton production on the cutting edge in a global, agricultural marketplace,” White said. “Based on the successful history of these labs, and their continuing importance to the cotton industry as a whole, this proposal needs to be reconsidered.”

The agricultural leader said the New Mexico Farm Bureau, and a coalition of cotton organizations, ginners and co-ops, are seeking assistance from New Mexico Senators Bingaman, Domenici and congressman Steve Pearce.

The USDA lab at Las Cruces is the only facility in the world doing research on the roller ginning of high quality Pima cotton variety.

“The facility in Las Cruces is utilized by a wide spectrum of growers and ginners not only in New Mexico, Arizona and California, but across the U.S. cotton belt as well,” White noted. “It is our technological edge in today’s super-competitive, international marketplace.”

“The Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory has played a key role in keeping our Western cotton growing region competitive,” said Russell Kuhnhenn, president of the National Cotton Ginners Association and an Arizona ginner. “But beyond its impact on Western harvesting and ginning, this lab continues to partner with other research facilities to address processing issues that affect ginners across the cotton belt.”

The Las Cruces lab, located on the west edge of the New Mexico State University campus, has been in continuous operation since 1949. Landmark breakthroughs resulting from work conducted there include the development of modern rotary-knife roller gins and new lint cleaners for upland cotton; mechanical cotton pickers (harvesters) and cutting edge research on reducing gin plant emissions; improved cotton harvesting methods; and improved ginning techniques to better preserve cotton quality for the cotton producer.

“The USDA cotton lab in Las Cruces is a historic and economic treasure in the American agricultural system. The work done here is invaluable.” White said.