County Extension agents and cotton specialists from across the Cotton Belt recently headed back to school to learn more about the role cotton fiber quality plays in textile processing, and the impacts various quality parameters have on the textile industry.

Steve Nichols, cotton agronomist at the Delta Research and Extension Center, says it was an eye-opening experience to see how many steps are required to take cotton from the field to the consumer once the fiber reaches the textile plant. “The symposium also reinforced to me the importance of continuing to look for the highest yielding cotton varieties while still maintaining the high quality parameters needed by the mills.”

Cotton specialists from Virginia to California attended the Extension Textile Manufacturing Symposium, held at the USDA-ARS Cotton Quality Research Unit in Clemson, S.C.

“The textile symposium provides needed exposure to those involved in production agriculture,” says Tommy Valco, USDA Cotton Technology Transfer and Education Coordinator, and coordinator of the educational meeting.

“Our Extension agents and cotton farmers often forget that cotton in the bale is just the beginning of the textile process. While this training doesn't turn participants into textile experts, it helps create awareness of fiber quality needs and demands in processing in a segment of the industry not normally exposed to the needs of textile mills,” he says.

David McAlister, research leader, and other members of the lab staff at the cotton quality research center, led the training and got the participants connected to the textile industry in new ways.

Spending time in the fiber quality lab enabled the group to be exposed to the latest textile processing equipment, where they learned the importance of bale selection and management with the desired fiber quality parameters and end uses. Participants also viewed and discussed a number of textile operations such as carding, drawing and combing.

“One of the key things we covered at the symposium are the different spinning methods for cotton, including ring spinning, rotor spinning and air jet spinning,” says Valco. “Participants learned that different fiber characteristics are advantageous for each spinning method. The newest spinning method, air jet or vortex spinning, requires higher quality length and strength characteristics. It is also very sensitive to short cotton fiber content.”

While quality discounts weigh heavily on the mind of cotton growers, lower quality cotton fiber characteristics can also negatively affect the textile industry. “Low quality as a function of trash content is just additional waste the textile manufacture has to remove before processing that fiber. High micronaire or low strength parameters, however, really limit the end products that fiber can be utilized for, and often the only option available are the thick yarns used for denim,” Valco says.

Additional speakers at the symposium included Bill Mayfield of Delta and Pine Land who discussed ginning and fiber properties; Bill Norman of the National Cotton Ginners Association, and Marc Bankston with the Cotton Board.

Once the participants learned the textile basics, they got a look at the textile industry at work by touring the WestPoint Stevens textile mill where, everyday, bales of cotton are transformed into bed sheets of every size and color imaginable.

“The ‘big picture’ gained from the textile symposium is so important for the cotton industry to continue working together,” says Valco. “We appreciate the sponsorship of Delta and Pine Land Company, Bayer Crop Science and Gustafson for their commitment to the cotton industry with helping to make this event possible.”