U.S. cotton has a reputation for top quality with major mill buyers overseas, says Mike Watson — but growers and ginners need to be increasingly vigilant to prevent contamination that can cause bales to be rejected and tarnish that outstanding reputation.

“Our customers perceive U.S. cotton as being contaminant-free. It’s a goal that’s tough to achieve, but that’s what they expect,” he said at the annual meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.

“If there’s anything in a bale other than raw cotton, it shouldn’t be there,” says Watson, who is vice-president of fiber competition for Cotton Incorporated, the research and promotion organization funded by assessments on producers and importers of cotton/cotton products.

“There is a long list of contaminants found in bales, ranging from plastic shopping bags that may have blown into a field, to plastic module cover fragments, to shop rags, and on and on. Among the worst is twine used on farms — it’s a real monster to deal with if it makes it through the ginning process and into the finished bale.”

In recent years, Watson says, there has been a trend of farmers spray painting messages and art on modules. “That paint often doesn’t come out of the cotton. You should spray paint modules only when absolutely necessary. If you want to use modules as a billboard, attach a sheet of plastic and paint that — but just be sure to remove it before it goes to the gin.”

With the advent of round modules, he says, foreign buyers have become more watchful for plastic fragments. “Anything remotely yellow will be blamed on module wraps. If a mill sees plastic in a bale, and your gin code is on that bale, you’ll likely be hearing from them. This is something that’s going to demand close monitoring in order to eliminate as much of this contamination as possible.”