As growers start the harvest season, it is important to remind them to “keep it clean and pure” this year. Over the past few years, the reputation that the American cotton grower has worked hard to earn has been challenged by contamination of the crop by a variety of foreign materials, including plastic. Producers have to be vigilant to make sure to keep contaminants out of their cotton. There have been reports of bales being sent back to gins, and customers moving elsewhere because of plastic contamination. The cotton industry is committed to improving this situation for all along the cotton supply chain.
Foreign materials are simply anything but lint and seed that is mixed into the cotton during harvest or during/after processing. They can range from bark to plastic bags to bale wrap. Not only can foreign material inadvertently make it into yarns and fabrics, but they can also degrade the crop. These things can very easily be taken in by harvesting equipment, and it is easier to prevent contamination than it is to remove contaminants from baled or ginned cotton.
Before harvest, growers must educate employees by creating a foreign materials watch list, and posting that list in automobiles and tractor/sprayer/picker cabs. Once that education is complete, workers can then identify and abate any potential contaminants in the field by stopping what they are doing to remove the foreign materials in the field. It is just as imperative to start the harvest season with clean equipment. For growers who use the new picker/balers, it is important to make sure that the equipment is not rubbing or puncturing the bale wrap and that the wrap is adhering in the correct places, as to not have any yellow or pink plastic lodged in the cotton. Transport bales at a height above the cotton stalks and place them at a flat, clean spot with a little bit of space between them.
Ginners and warehouses also need to take precautions. These entities need to start the season clean and keep their employees educated on how to prevent contamination and the importance of preventing it. Areas in the process that are more susceptible to contamination are transporting bales/modules and removing bale wrap. It is also important to make sure that grease, oil, and other similar product spills on the floors where cotton is handled are cleaned up thoroughly.
While these tips seem simple, they are very important in keeping our cotton contamination free this year. Following these simple guidelines can help keep the high standard of American cotton around the world, and could improve access to more foreign markets. For more information about this topic and others, please contact the Georgia Contact Commission at www.georgiacottoncommission.org or (478) 988-4235.