This week, Commission staff was given the opportunity to tour the USDA-AMS Cotton Classing Office in Macon. All producers have a vested interest in the operations of the classing office, as this is where samples of every bale of cotton go to be graded. The results of this process determine if and how many discounts are applied to the check that the farmer receives for their crop. It was impressive to see the lengths that the staff go to to make sure that all samples are classed on par with one another.
Samples arrive on trucks from all the gins in the office’s territory (all of Georgia and Florida, plus half of Alabama). They are then racked on conveyors and are conditioned, which means they wait some time in a climate controlled environment to make sure that the temperature, humidity, and moisture levels in the air around the samples is the same. The samples then head into another room where classers, in a very quick fashion, pull “beards” off of each side of the sample and run it through an APHIS machine where the strength, staple length, fiber diameter, and fiber uniformity are tested. After this, another amount of cotton is taken and ran through another machine that photographs the cotton from all sides to determine the color. This all happens in roughly 45 seconds. Periodically throughout the day, checks are ran on the machines to make sure that everything is working correctly. After this, the samples are put back on racks and ran into another room where another group of inspectors pull the samples apart to determine if there is excess grass or bark. The average classer runs through 75 samples per hour, which explains how the office can run through the samples of over 30,000 bales in a 24 hour period.
It was very impressive the emphasis that the staff puts on training and uniformity. One comment made from USDA staff at the office was on plastic in the samples, which has been discussed in our media before. If possible, producers should use the practices mentioned in this article. The main carry home point from our visit with the Classing Office is that producer’s cotton is in good hands with the staff at the Macon Cotton Classing Office.