Contaminated lint costs the international cotton industry more than $200 million each year.
And it's a problem with relatively simple solutions, according to Andy Jordan, director of technical services for the National Cotton Council in Memphis.
Jordan discussed the problem and outlined a few remedies during the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.
“This is a serious threat to the cotton industry,” Jordan said. “We (the United States) have made tremendous progress and are among the best in the world at delivering cotton without contaminants. But we are not the best.”
He said contamination losses include rejected shipments, lost contracts and loss of goodwill from customers.
“We often don't see the problem until it's too late,” he said. Contamination may not become evident until yarn is woven into bolts of cloth. “That's a costly time for it to show up,” Jordan said, “but it's not as costly as in a finished garment.”
Garments with contaminants often become little more than rags.
He said contaminants include shopping bags, plastic twine, irrigation drip lines, colored apparel, hay baling twine, grease and oil, bale covers and rubber picker doffers.
“Sticky cotton also poses problems,” he said. Insect sugars from whiteflies and other pests stick to the lint. “It can shut a mill down faster than a labor strike,” Jordan said.
“Also, some buyers will boycott areas with known sticky cotton problems.”
Jordan says these and other contaminants represent “one of the biggest hurdles spinning facilities face. Spinning equipment can't recognize many contaminants. Consequently, buyers are demanding contaminant-free cotton, with guarantees.”
Jordan said the best solution is prevention.
“It's not all that difficult. Good sanitation is the key.”
He said policing fields, modules, wagons, other vehicles and gins helps reduce contamination.
“Use approved bagging materials and pick up debris from fields. Clean picker and stripper heads, inspect modules, repair or replace module covers, remove twine from module tie-downs and keep hay-baling twine away from the gin. Also, monitor moisture losses.”
Jordan said growers should scout fields in-season for aphids and whiteflies to prevent sticky cotton.
“And work with customers to develop procedures to eliminate contaminants,” he said.
Jordan also encouraged growers, ginners and others throughout the cotton transportation and manufacturing chain to call on every resource, including the National Cotton Council, for help in developing best management practices to combat lint contamination.
“We are strategically positioned to become the best provider of non-contaminated cotton in the world,” he said.