Cotton growers who want to increase profits should select varieties with consistently high quality characteristics and do all they can to keep foreign contaminants from getting into their cotton.

Joel Faircloth, a graduate student at North Carolina State University has studied the sources of both contaminants and low quality characteristics like high micronaire and short staple. He shared his observations with growers attending the 78th annual meeting of the Carolinas Cotton Growers Cooperative.

"Contaminated cotton and low quality make cotton less competitive with man-made fibers and with cotton from other countries," Faircloth says.

"Low quality and contaminants have cost the U.S. textile industry millions of dollars since 1996. Now bale labeling allows mills to trace contaminants back to the source. That is affecting their buying patterns."

Faircloth says 50 percent of common contaminants are plastic. Apparel fibers make up 25 percent of all contaminants. Rubber makes up 10 percent, and grease and oil make up five percent of contaminants.

Sources of plastic are synthetic module covers, plastic tie-downs, irrigation ditch liners and plastic bags. Rubber comes from old, worn doffers and worn moisture pads. Grease and oil accumulating on picker bars and excessive oil in the moisturizing system lead to grease and oil stains. All kinds of clothing also gets mixed with cotton and torn into tiny contaminants in the ginning process.

When these contaminants show up in yarns or finished textiles, the cotton products are rejected, costing spinners and textile manufacturers millions of dollars. Growers lose when cotton buyers refuse to purchase cotton from areas known to deliver contaminated cotton.

"Walk your fields before picking. Remove any plastic bags or other contaminants," Faircloth says. "Don't use ripped module covers or plastic covers or tie-downs. Adjust spindle to doffer clearance to manufacturer specifications. Replace worn doffers with non-contiminating parts. Clean picker heads at least weekly. Never use motor oil or diesel fuel in the moisturizing system. Educate employees about the importance of keeping hats, shoes and clothes away from the cotton."

Finally, Faircloth urges cotton growers to carefully study the fiber quality characteristics of cotton varieties before making seed selections.

"We can blame hurricanes and floods for some of the quality problems we have seen. But some growers have planted cotton varieties without examining the quality characteristics of those varieties. Keith Edmisten (Extension Cotton Specialist at North Carolina State University) encourages growers to consider the quality characteristics the gin and the mills consider important before deciding which varieties you will plant next year," Faircloth says.