Georgia cotton quality issue raised by manufacturer

Just when Georgia cotton producers thought they were safe from the stinging indictments made in the past about the quality of their crop, there comes this news from the 18th Annual Engineered Fiber Selection Systems Conference in Memphis: Frontier Spinning Mills, Inc., announces that it will not accept any Georgia-grown cotton after this year, following a two-year study on the link between cotton origin and spinning performance.

According to Matthew Thomas, technical director for Frontier, the company's research in 2003 and 2004 showed a greater occurrence of “ends down” in cotton grown in Georgia versus cotton grown in four other Southern states. Thomas said that in 2003, the first year of the study, Frontier spun 20 percent Georgia cotton in all its mills and dropped it to 7.5 percent in 2004. For 2005, they expect to be at 3 percent, based on pre-existing contracts. Going forward, management has decided that all new contract inquiries will be for 0 percent Georgia cotton.

“Ends down,” explained Thomas, is an interruption in the spinning process that occurs when the spinning tension becomes greater than the tensile strength of the yarn. It can result in lost efficiency and lost revenue, he said.

All of this brings to mind a peanut meeting held this past summer, when representatives of all segments of that industry joined in a panel discussion and agreed that their respective futures depended on the success of one another — that all segments of the industry must work together towards one ultimate goal. It prompts one to ask of textile manufacturers, specifically Frontier Spinning Mills, Inc., “Where's the love?”

What is to be gained by publicly disparaging the quality of Georgia cotton? If there is a legitimate problem, might the wiser course of action, and the less damaging course, be for Frontier to perhaps inform officials of the Georgia Cotton Commission of the problem, who then could consult with Extension specialists, researchers and others on the production side of the industry to help find solutions to any problems?

Such a public declaration naturally causes one to wonder about motive. It has been alleged for some time now that some mills will purchase discounted bales and then complain when they don't run like premium fiber — that a reputation or a mere suspicion of inferiority represents opportunity for merchants or mills.

To his credit, University of Georgia Extension Cotton Specialist Steve M. Brown, who spoke at the same meeting, was diplomatic in his remarks. Brown talked about the “mixed signals” Georgia was getting from the marketplace, with some textile mills talking of rejecting future shipments of the state's cotton while others apparently are attempting to buy all of the fiber they can get.

“The performance of a particular cotton for a specific application in one mill is not an indication of how it will perform in another mill,” he said. “What Frontier Mills means when they refer to the issue does not necessarily reflect what Avondale means.”

Georgia growers are aware, says Brown, that they face challenges with length uniformity and short fiber content. While all of the reasons for this are not clear, there seems to be some correlation with latitude, he says. Uniformity numbers in the lower portion of the Cotton Belt tend to track together — toward the bottom.

Brown also thinks there might be a link between uniformity issues, full-season varieties, and the success of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program. “With full-season varieties and boll weevil eradication, we have the opportunity to consistently make a top crop, and that may make uniformity a particular challenge,” he says.

Georgia cotton growers are very much aware of the challenges they face with meeting the quality parameters being set by certain textile manufacturers. They've been beaten over the head with the issue for the past year-and-a-half. And, they've made great strides in meeting those challenges, as evidenced by the increased staple and strength seen in 2004, despite poundings from numerous hurricanes and tropical storms.

The Georgia Cotton Commission, along with the University of Georgia Extension Cotton Team and others, has worked diligently to ensure that Georgia cotton doesn't receive the stigma that can come from comments such as those made by the Frontier official. They have pin-pointed things farmers can do to improve fiber quality, such as controlling stinkbugs and harvesting earlier, and farmers have learned of these strategies through countless meetings and field days focusing on the quality issue. And, they've invested in a new micro gin that is the only one in the nation that assesses the effects of growing techniques, environmental conditions, pest pressure and ginning on fiber quality.

It would be a shame to see all of this work and progress minimized by the comments and actions of one manufacturer.

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