Transferring cotton classing functions away from USDA facilities to local cotton gins “would have to be an industry decision — not a USDA decision,” says Daryl Earnest, associate deputy administrator for the Agricultural Marketing Service's cotton program.

“We serve the industry, and if that's what the industry feels needs to be done, we'll work with everyone to try and make it possible,” he told members of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at their annual summer conference at Franklin, Tenn.

Acknowledging “a lot of discussion” in the industry over the past couple of years about the possibilities of such a transition, he cautioned that while there may well be advantages, there are also drawbacks — and a lot of challenges in making it happen.

The AMS “has been involved in determining cotton quality since the early 1900s,” Earnest said, “and we've become the world leader in establishing and maintaining universal cotton standards.”

Any move to a different system would need to be sure those standards were not compromised and that the “integrity and accuracy” of cotton quality measurements were maintained, he noted.

Advantages would include “immediate data feedback” to the grower and cost savings in warehousing and storage of samples.

But, Earnest pointed out, in 2001 there were 950 to 1,000 cotton gins, “with diverse volumes and technologies,” which could pose problems assuring that procedures and quality control met required standards.

For those gins offering classing, USDA would still have to provide oversight and monitor the validity of data in order to insure “that the end user receives unbiased classing results.” And there are concerns as to whether or not the sensitive classing equipment could be calibrated and monitored remotely, not to mention the need for it to be located in a controlled environment.

Because of the financial, personnel, and infrastructure requirements for classing systems, it's likely not all gins would participate, which would require USDA to continue offering classing to serve those gins' customers.

Gins would be faced with additional costs for the equipment and USDA's cotton program would have costs for monitoring, oversight, and providing classing for growers whose gins didn't offer classing.

“These costs would likely be passed back to the grower,” Earnest said.

Bottom line, he noted, “There are many, many questions. We're not taking either a positive or negative stance on it; rather, we're looking at it logically and thoroughly, so we can work with the industry to continue providing the most accurate classing data at the lowest cost.”

Members of the Arkansas-Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana cotton ginners associations attended the annual conference.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com.