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Fragments dampen SE cotton quality. Classing office explains process

Brad Haire brad-haire-farm-press-round-bale-cotton-GA-19-d.jpg
Significant increase in seed coat fragments has caused concern around the region.
Examining the unusual increase in seed coat fragments in cotton produced in the Southeast.

The 2020 cotton season didn't end well for some Southeast cotton. The USDA Classing Office in Macon, Ga., has classed 2.2 million samples. Approximately 895,000 contained seed coat fragments, which can discount the value of that cotton.

A portion of samples taken at the office also contained whole cotton seed.

On Jan. 5, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue directed the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to work with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to raise awareness and further examine the unusual increase in seed coat fragments in cotton produced in the Southeast.

“This significant increase in seed coat fragments has caused obvious concern around the region and questions about the possible cause as well as the cotton classing process,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black in a Jan. 5 USDA statement. “We are working closely with USDA and industry experts to identify the cause of the issue and potential solutions."

“Following Secretary Perdue’s engagement with Commissioner Black, we would like to invite producers and stakeholders to visit our office and see classing firsthand to better understand the issue,” said USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach said in the same Jan. 5 statement. “All ten of the AMS Cotton Program classing offices operate by the same standards, processes and quality control procedures, and we look forward to sharing more information about how we ensure accuracy and consistency in the classing process.”

A highly trained team classes every cotton sample received at an AMS Cotton Classing Office, according to the USDA statement. After being tested on an electronic high volume instrument for a variety of fiber properties, samples are manually inspected for the presence of extraneous matter. If a classer determines that an appreciable amount of extraneous matter exists throughout the sample, a code is entered into the computer system that identifies the specific type of matter.

A portion of all samples graded each day are randomly selected for recheck in the office and another portion of these samples are shipped to the AMS Cotton Program’s Quality Assurance Division in Memphis for another recheck.

“I have complete confidence in the integrity of the cotton classing process, and I appreciate USDA’s willingness to provide additional information to producers,” said Black.

If a stakeholders or producers would like to observe the cotton classing process in Macon, contact Noah Bell, area director, at (478) 474-2831 to set up an appointment. The office is located at 1100 Parkway Drive, Macon GA 31220. Strict adherence to COVID-19 protocol is required for each visitor.

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