U.S. cotton’s reputation for being the cleanest in the world “could be seriously damaged,” if contamination of ginned fiber becomes a widespread problem, says Dwayne Alford, president of the National Cotton Ginners Association, Yuma, Ariz.

To that end, he said at the annual meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at Memphis, the NCGA is working with equipment manufacturers, the National Cotton Council, and the nation’s ginners to eliminate the potential for contamination.

Additionally, he says, there needs to be an awareness — from the grower on through the processing chain — of the importance of keeping cotton contaminant-free.

“During the past two years, efforts have been initiated to train gin employees on the proper procedures for removing wrappers from round modules,” Alford says.

But while the number of round modules handled by gins has increased significantly, the greatest threat to contamination of the yarn used by spinning mills remains thinner plastics, “such as shopping bags and black mulching.”

As the John Deere 7760 picker continues to grow in popularity and gins continue to purchase handling equipment and make modifications to unwrap the round modules, he says, “Removal of these plastic wrappers has to be done correctly and safely.”

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As part of the effort to address these concerns, Alford notes, the NCGA has produced a video on round module handling and safety that will be made available prior to the 2014 ginning season.

“As other harvesting equipment manufacturers are making changes to existing machines or developing new systems, we feel it is important that these companies work with our ginners to insure compatibility with existing ginning systems and prevent contamination.

“During the recent NCGA board meeting, a recommendation was approved to request that harvesting equipment manufacturers consult with producers and ginners in the development of new systems, or modifications to existing systems. This language was adopted by the National Cotton Council, and we will be following up with equipment manufacturers to make them aware of this policy.”

Alford says NCGA is continuing to support research, through the USDA Cotton Ginning Laboratories and Cotton Incorporated, that addresses quality issues and concerns.

Increases in extraneous matter

“The last few years, we’ve had increases in extraneous matter, especially bark, and leaf grades have also increased. The reasons vary widely, and include plant diseases, varieties being grown, harvest aids, pickers, and the USDA classing offices. Seed coat fragments have also become a quality problem.

“Just a few years ago, bark problems were almost unheard of in the Southeast and Mid-South regions. This is a costly quality concern, and we must determine the sources and develop a solution.”

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Additionally, Alford says, the nation’s cotton gins are “continuing to be bombarded” with new and updated regulations.

“Agencies such as OSHA and EPA have been especially active during the Obama administration, and NCGA has been active in commenting on proposed rules and developing materials to address changes to regulations that affect ginners.

“Among those issues were recent changes to the hazardous communications program, to which we responded with updates to our safety training video and creation of a complete training program that is available on our website.

“We’re also closely monitoring a number of air quality concerns that range from current implementation of EPA regulations to possible new climate change legislation. We have finalized our sampling project to determine accurate emissions data, and that information is now being used by some states to help with air quality permitting, and in the future can be used to assist gins in meeting state and federal air quality regulations.”

Last year, he says, the president announced a renewed emphasis on climate change “by attacking new and existing coal-fired electric generation facilities.

“Rather than use legislation, as was attempted early in his first term, the president announced that he would use a number of executive orders to limit carbon emissions. Immediately afterward, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced several initiatives that would be implemented by USDA to address climate change — intentions that he repeated immediately after the president signed the new farm bill.

“Most recently, the president reiterated his plan to use executive orders to accomplish his agenda if Congress doesn’t provide legislation. We will need to monitor all this closely, as everyone in the ginning industry would potentially be impacted.”

Immigration a concern for ginners

Immigration reform is an issue also of concern to the ginning industry, Alford says.

“If you look at many ginning crews across the cotton belt, you’ll see that many of them are Hispanic. Immigration reform has been talked about for years, and it appears there is broad support for an immigration bill. The Senate has passed its version of immigration reform, including provisions for agricultural employers and employees.

“And while the House Judiciary Committee has approved the Agricultural Guest Worker Act, we have a long way to go before the House completes its work. We’re told the House may take a more piecemeal approach instead of a comprehensive bill.”

As the cotton ginning industry evolves, Alford says, the trend is to fewer gins that are processing more bales than ever.

“During the National Cotton Council’s Vision 21 cotton flow study, the merits of four-bale marketing as a single unit was discussed as an innovative merchandizing method that could cut warehousing costs and improve cotton flow. In 2011, this concept became NCC policy.

“Recognizing the need for increased efficiencies at the gin, the Technology Committee considered and passed a recommendation to invstigate the benefits of a larger bale being produced at the gin. While this concept may be years in the future, NCGA will work with other industry segments to determine its needs and merits.

It’s important, Alford says, that gin employees continue to be well-trained, and to that end the cotton ginning certification courses held yearly at three locations can be of great value to gin personnel.

The schools are scheduled this year at the South Plains Ginning Laboratory, Lubbock, Texas, March 31-April 2; the Southwest Ginning Research Laboratory, Mesilla Park, N.M., May 6-8; and the USDA Ginning Research Laboratory, Stoneville, Miss., June 3-5. Details and registration information are available at ncga.cotton.org/ncga/ginschool

“With the assistance of the USDA and gin equipment manufacturers, school participants are trained on operations, safety, and other topics important to their gins.”

Ginners receiving certification in 2013 included Jeremy Holmes and Landa Nichols, Bay Gin Company, Bay, Ark., and John Jeter, Zion Gin Company, Brownsville, Tenn.

“We congratulate these ginners on completing this intensive program,” Alford said.