The United States cotton industry has long enjoyed a reputation for producing high-quality cotton. This reputation has been earned by American cotton farmers for their diligence. One new challenge has surfaced in recent years that has the potential to damage the quality of cotton grown in the United States. The challenge is keeping cotton free of contamination by foreign materials.
Foreign material is any impurity, whether organic or inorganic, that gets unintentionally mixed with cotton in the various harvest and post-harvest processes. Foreign materials can range from plastic grocery bags to leather gloves. These contaminates have the potential to make it through the various stages of textile production and end up ruining many yards of cotton yarn.
While there is not one obvious source or type of contamination, there are things that can be done at different stages to help mitigate contaminates entering the cotton stream. For cotton growers, the easiest thing to do is to be diligent in inspecting cotton harvester for any excessive grease, fluid leaks, or foreign materials that may have accumulated. Also be aware of any debris that could be potentially taken up during the harvest process, such as plastic grocery bags and plastic mulch are very lightweight and can easily be picked up by the harvester. Once these items enter the harvester they may be torn or shredded effecting an entire module of cotton.
For cotton gins, contaminates may be found at the gin or transferred from the field by module trucks. Ginners need to be aware of any foreign material found on equipment or on the gin floors. Take extra time prior to ginning the first module to inspect all equipment to insure that there are no contaminates located in or around the ginning equipment. Inspect module trucks for foreign materials such as plastics or rope that may have been picked up in the field. Also be sure to educate all gin employees on the proper techniques used to safely unwrap round modules and be sure to not use torn module covers for traditional modules that may introduce contaminates into the cotton.
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For warehouse operators, contaminates may be found in or around the areas in which cotton is stored. Be meticulous in inspecting equipment to ensure that no grease, oil, or fuel are present on equipment surfaces that handle cotton. Train and educated all warehouse employees on the proper handling techniques for cotton bales to maintain the integrity of the bale packaging so that contaminates are not introduced when moving, loading, or unloading bales.