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Plastic free cotton should be industry's goal

Staff cotton-modules-staff-dfp-4912.jpg
Module wrap is a potential contaminant if the coverings are ripped or torn.
Plastic contamination can affect the demand for U.S. cotton.

I've seen a lot of good, clean cotton out there this year. Even with the busiest hurricane season I can remember, it looks like the storms have not strung the cotton out in most areas, leaf drop looks good and those white fields are a spectacular contrast in the landscape. 

It's no wonder that cotton grown in the United States is marketed as a value-added product when you see the vast fields of white around the countryside. The reason we can market our cotton that way is because we can pick it clean and it is generally free of most kinds of contamination. 

Many years ago, I spoke with some Turkish cotton buyers and they said they preferred U.S. cotton because it was so clean. I laughed when they said it was free of hair. I couldn't imagine, since my perspective was how we grow cotton here, why there would be a problem with hair in cotton. 

One of the guys in the group explained that in some of the third world countries where cotton is grown in small family plots, a family can accumulate cotton over the picking season and store it in the home or a small barn where people slept or where animals were kept, hence the hair problem. Only when they had accumulated enough cotton, would they take the lint to be ginned. And, he said, hair is very hard to get out of cotton lint. 

Today we face a very different contamination problem. Plastic is the major non-plant contaminant here in the U.S. In some cases buyers are rejecting our cotton because of it. 

Initially plastic contamination in our cotton was due to plastic bags being blown into the field. In some areas there has been contamination from black plastic used to grow vegetables or line ditches.  

But now our biggest culprit is from one of our most rapidly adopted advances in picking technology – round module wraps. 

As contamination reports increased across the country, at the urging of growers the USDA AMS Cotton and Tobacco Program implemented two extraneous matter codes for bales containing plastic contaminants. Researchers began working on systems that could remove contamination at the gin stand. 

Even with the outcry and quick action to try and curtail the contamination from the module packaging, contamination increased. For the 2019-20 season, almost 85% of the plastic found in cotton bales was from module wrap, according to USDA. 

Cotton Incorporated, USDA, North Carolina State University and Texas A&M University have worked together to produce a contamination reduction document that provides growers, module handlers and ginners recommendations on handling round modules to eliminate contamination at https://bit.ly/2Hzax4I

And, the National Cotton Council has a reference resource for other contamination reduction articles and Zoom seminars at https://bit.ly/2HzghLN

We need to keep our cotton contamination free in order to compete in the global market. 

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