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Losses as high as $48 per bale: Are module covers costing big bucks?

After all the money and effort you've put into this year's cotton crop, do you want to lose anywhere from $30 to almost $500 on every module?

That's what can happen as a result of poorly built modules and worn or inadequate covers, members of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association were told at a regional meeting at Clarksdale, Miss.

“Studies have shown that you can lose about $20 per bale on a well-built but poorly covered module when rain occurs during storage,” said Stanley Anthony, supervisory agricultural engineer and research leader for the USDA Agricultural Research Service Cotton Ginning Research Unit at Stoneville, Miss.

Further, he noted, “A module that's poorly built and poorly covered can lose $48 per bale.

“You can build them poorly, but cover them well and not lose any value. Good covers are more important than properly building modules.”

Module tarps cost about $75, Anthony said, and a three-month life “is not pessimistic.” Tarps should probably be used only once, he said.

Some vendors will inspect and test tarps for a small fee. If rain is remotely anticipated, old module covers should be replaced to insure that the cotton is adequately protected.

Texas A&M study

The study Anthony cited, by Shay L. Simpson and Stephen W. Searcy at Texas A&M University at College Station, shows significant losses in cotton grades can occur when seed cotton becomes wet.

“Many gin owners, gin managers, cotton producers, and their employees believe that module covers will continue to protect seed cotton for numerous years, and that as long as the covers aren't falling apart at the seams, or have numerous obvious holes, or haven't been destroyed by mechanical force, they can be kept for another year of use,” they note.

But module covers made from plastic and/or vinyl materials break down over time under normal environmental conditions of sunlight, wind, and cold. Even the process of unrolling and rolling up the covers causes damage.

“Laboratory testing has proven that during rainfall and when water ponds on top of the cover afterward, small holes in the module cover can allow considerable amounts of water to penetrate the cover and enter the seed cotton,” their report notes. The following results were noted:

  • Modules that were ginned prior to rains showed good color grades and high profits above local base loan value.

  • Those that were well-built and had good covers, but were not ginned until after rains occurred, still had good color grades and profits.

  • Cotton from modules that were well-built but had poor covers and were ginned following rains was duller, had more yellow color grades, and racked up large losses.

  • Modules that were poorly built, had poor covers, and were ginned after the rains had the worst color grades and largest losses.

  • Modules that were built after the rains, using cotton that was on the stalk during the rains, resulted in duller grades and losses.

“Losses in discounts due to the reduced value of seed cotton in modules that were poorly built and/or covered with a poor cover ranged, on average, from $30 to $478,” the Simpson/Searcy study found.

But quite the opposite was found for well-built modules that were properly covered.

“Profits due to premiums brought from preserving the seed cotton quality averaged over $200.”

Producers who used good covers got “more profits more of the time,” while a poor cover “always resulted in losses below the loan value.”

Just as important, they found, is the shape and condition of the module. “A well-built module in combination with a good cover provided greater profits in premiums above base loan value, but a poorly-built module most of the time resulted in losses due to discounts.”

Module covers cost $55 to $120, depending on the number purchased and the type — plastic, vinyl, woven, or film.

“The risk one takes of keeping older covers with more pinholes…is high,” the Simpson/Searcy study concluded. “The average loss of a well-built module and a poor cover is $235, and the average loss of a poorly-built module and a poor cover is $478. The potential savings a producer would have if good covers were used on modules greatly outweighs the cost of the module covers, even the more expensive covers.”

Higher rainfall risk in Gulf region cotton areas may make the benefits for replacing module covers even greater.

In addition to the losses due to cotton grade reductions and discounts, they point out there are additional losses from poor turnout and gin downtime.

“Significant decreases in turnout were seen, as was gin downtime and ginning rate due to wet cotton…Gin stands and other equipment would choke with wads of stringy cotton.”

Module cover supply companies and module cover repair companies offer services for sorting through cover inventories, Simpson/Searcy note.

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