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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Cotton Ginning Research » Research » Research Project #428934

Research Project: Enhancing the Quality, Utility, Sustainability and Environmental Impact of Western and Long-Staple Cotton through Improvements in Harvesting, Processing, and Utilization

Location: Cotton Ginning Research

2019 Annual Report

1: Determine the expected impact of new cultivars, agronomic practices, and harvesting/storage practices on profitability and risks in ginning of Western and long-staple cotton in collaboration with private-sector partners, ARS-SRRC-CSQ, and other ARS laboratories. 1A: Improve or enhance cotton fiber ginnability, textile utility, and cottonseed end use value of new germplasm releases of both Upland and Pima cottons. 1B: Reduce fiber damage during harvesting. 1C: Improve and reduce environmental risk of cotton harvest preparation. 2: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new commercial technologies, methods and processes to (1) improve process efficiencies, (2) reduce uncertainties and risk, and (3) increase end-product and co-product value in the ginning of Western and other long-staple cottons. 2A: Improve seed-cotton drying and foreign matter extraction. 2B: Develop improved saw ginning technologies to increase efficiency and productivity, and enhance fiber quality. 2C: Enhance high speed roller-ginning technologies to increase capacity and improve textile processing efficiency and yarn quality. 2D: Enhance understanding and knowledge of ginning techniques and processes for better decision making tools at the gin and textile mill. 2E: Improve foreign matter extraction and fiber quality of ginned lint. 2F: Develop methods and systems to reduce energy consumption during ginning. 2G: Assist the ginning industry in complying with regulatory standards. 3: Enable the commercial processing of cotton companion crops, such as chile peppers and tree nuts. 3A: Assist tree nut industries in improving process efficiency and reducing environmental risk. 3B: Optimize field machinery for chile harvest mechanization.

To address critical production, processing and regulatory compliance issues pertaining to Western irrigated cottons and companion crops, this project focuses on three main research areas. The first area advances knowledge of and improves cotton cultivars and production and harvesting practices by 1) collaborating with cotton breeders to determine the ginned fiber quality, textile processing characteristics, and cottonseed quality of newly developed cotton cultivars; 2) investigating cotton picker spindle designs to reduce quality degradation during harvesting; and 3) developing a technology to thermally treat cotton plant stalks for whole-plant desiccation and defoliation. The second improves processing, reduces risk, and increases value by 1) building on earlier work to advance the use of microwave energy to effectively dry seed cotton; 2) improving a device developed to accurately measure seed cotton moisture content for better system management; 3) developing an infrared based sensor to detect plastics contamination in seed cotton at the gin and an electrostatic based device to separate plastics from seed cotton by exploiting static charge affinity differences; 4) evaluating current and, then, developing improved gin saw designs that maintain capacity and reduce fiber damage; 5) cooperating with industry partners in further evaluating and refining a prototype seed cotton reclaimer and lint cleaner feed works capable of processing seed cotton carryover and ginned lint from high speed roller gin stands; 6) evaluating roller ginned upland cotton textile utilization without combing to reduce processing cost; 7) studying in depth the cost of roller ginning upland cottons; 8) exploring improvements in lint cleaner saw wire configuration and grid bar design, and developing new air knife and rotary brush technologies to reduce seed coat fragments in ginned lint; 9) developing continuous air system monitoring and control systems and performing cyclone flow sensitivity analyses to reduce gin energy consumption; and 10) updating particulate emission factors, evaluating regulatory dispersion models, documenting federal reference method particulate samplers for more equitable industry regulation. The third area enhances the viability of cotton companion crops by 1) modifying current walnut drying technologies to reduce energy usage and drying time; 2) building on previous testing and utilizing an experimental approach to improve a retrofit particulate abatement technology for mobile agricultural equipment; and 3) optimizing a prototype to mechanize succulent chili harvest.

Progress Report
Progress on the three objectives of this project focused on cotton ginning, textile utility, and agricultural regulatory and processing issues. Under Objective 1, progress was made in enabling new germplasm releases of Pima and other extra-long-staple cottons so American farmers are supplied with genetics that result in high productivity in their fields and maximum value in international markets. Cooperating with cotton breeders from different parts of the U.S., this laboratory ginned breeder samples and provided lint and seed samples with turnout calculations for three groups: 1) Forty-four Pima cotton samples were roller ginned for Texas Agrilife Extension that included six varieties grown for the El Paso County Cotton Variety Trials; 2) Ninety Pima Cotton samples from a small research plot trial in California were roller ginned; and 3) Eight Pima Cotton samples were roller ginned and classing information obtained for a local New Mexico farmer. The Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory entered into a new agreement with New Mexico State University, Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science College’s cotton breeding program to evaluate the ginned fiber quality, textile processing characteristics, and cottonseed quality of new Pima and Upland cotton strains to guide variety development. In addition to fiber length, strength and micronaire, other properties such as seed size, seedcoat fragments, neps, short fiber content and fiber uniformity will be evaluated in the breeding process. Under Objective 2, progress was made to improve gin process efficiency, maintain fiber quality, and reduce waste and energy consumption. Analysis continued on data from an online cotton moisture measurement system that could improve cotton dryer control. Previous results showed that real time seed cotton mass flow varied considerably. Two techniques attempted to reduce this variation: moving average smoothing and simple exponential smoothing. Seed cotton mass flow was slightly improved, but not to an acceptable level. A more reliable mass flow measurement is needed to accurately predict cotton moisture. Work continued on a project to determine if fiber length uniformity is improved with lint cleaners that use non-conventional methods of placing fiber onto the cleaning saw cylinder. Initial fiber analyses data from a previous test were analyzed. Seed cotton test lots were packaged for shipment to the ARS lab in Stoneville, Mississippi and to the University of Georgia Micro Gin in Tifton, Georgia in preparation for rounds of testing on lint cleaning technologies located at those labs. These tests will help direct future research on new lint cleaning technologies to improve fiber quality, making U.S. cotton more competitive with man-made fibers. A project to compare fiber properties of hand-picking and ginning methods used by breeders to commercial machine-picking and ginning on full-sized gin stands was planned. The experiment was designed with industry collaborators and will include ginning both hand- and machine-picked cottons on table-top and full-scale saw- and roller-gin stands. Three varieties of cotton were hand- and machine- picked for the tests. For this project, a previously retired, full-scale, reciprocating-knife roller gin stand was brought out of storage to be restored and installed by unit personnel in the Lab’s roller gin facility. Work continued on collecting and interpreting economic data to determine the ginning costs of saw ginning and high-speed roller ginning of Upland and Pima cotton in the Far West (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Far West Texas). This Lab collaborated with New Mexico State University, Agricultural Economics to plan cotton gin site visits for data collection during the 2019 ginning season. In conjunction with ARS researchers in Lubbock, Texas, a system to detect colored plastics that contaminate seed cotton at the gin – a major problem for U.S. cotton – and eject them from the cotton stream was tested at a commercial gin and shown successful. A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) partner is further developing the technology and working with a U.S. cotton gin machinery manufacturer to install complete systems at two commercial cotton gins for the 2019 ginning season. Work continued with a CRADA partner to reduce lint and cottonseed loss by developing a high-capacity roller gin reclaimer. A fully randomized and replicated test of two experimental cleaners at various internal component speeds was conducted and results reported at an international conference. The experimental reclaimers lost less cotton fiber than a conventional reclaimer, but the conventional reclaimer lost less cottonseed. Further testing with the experimental reclaimers in series and then on a commercial scale are being planned. To follow-up on previous testing, a comprehensive test at a commercial cotton gin was planned with a CRADA partner to test the hypothesis that cryogenic treatment would extend the life of gin saws. The planned test was expanded to include testing the impact of varying gin saw thickness on ginning efficiency and energy consumption. The experimental design was developed through collaborative efforts of the facility owner, the CRADA partner, and an ARS area statistician. Saws were ordered, are currently being treated by a cryogenic facility, and testing will occur during the 2019 ginning season. A comprehensive fuel energy audit campaign aimed at reducing energy consumption during ginning was completed. Finalized recommendations were presented at a cotton industry technical conference. A journal article manuscript was drafted and submitted for review and publication. A webcast based on this work was made, and became the most-viewed on Plant Management Network’s site. Based on comments returned from Environmental Protection Agency, 264 cotton gin particulate matter emissions sampling reports are being revised and reviewed for resubmission to EPA for further review. The reports are very important to the U.S. cotton ginning industry, in that they contain cotton gin particulate emissions data based on scientifically collected data for quality rating and incorporation into EPA's Compilation of Emission Factors. Under Objective 3, significant progress was made to aid processing and mechanization of cotton companion crops. This Lab cooperated with New Mexico State University (NMSU). We assisted with harvesting and conducting field loss analyses for mechanized chile pepper harvesting and providing agricultural engineering expertise to NMSU’s chile breeding program. A project to reduce energy consumption in walnut drying continued. A unit scientist met and formed collaborations with ARS scientists in Albany, California, faculty at the University of California, Davis, representatives from tree nut processors associations, and the owner of a tree nut machinery manufacturer. A comprehensive review of current and past research and the state of technology in walnut post-harvest processing was continued.

1. Documenting crucial cotton moisture lab practice and statistical variability. Moisture content has a significant impact on the processing efficiency and resulting quality of seed cotton, lint, cottonseed, and cotton byproducts. The standard oven-drying methods for determining cotton constituents’ moisture contents was published in 1972 and, as new technologies have been introduced and cultivars have changed, the practices have evolved. Furthermore, a bale at a gin that has 7.5 percent or more moisture at any point in the bale is not eligible for the Commodity Credit Corporation Marketing Assistance Loan Program. Therefore, accurate moisture measurement methods are of great importance to cotton research efforts and the industry. In an extensive study, ARS researchers in Las Cruces, New Mexico compared the 1972 standard procedures to current laboratory practices for determining moisture content by oven drying. They found differences in absolute value of measured moisture, but interestingly variability has decreased since 1972. Understanding the differences in procedures allows for fair comparisons. Knowing the uncertainty of each procedure allows scientists to design better experiments while avoiding costly oversampling. Better moisture measurements will help the industry to avoid “wet” cotton that may not qualify for the cotton loan and is at risk to become “moisture-damaged” and unsaleable.

Review Publications
Funk, P.A., Hardin IV, R.G. 2019. A comprehensive gin maintenance program. Journal of Cotton Science. 23:78-89.
Armijo, C.B., Whitelock, D.P., Funk, P.A., Martin, V.B. 2019. How current cotton ginning practices affect fiber length uniformity index. Journal of Cotton Science. 23:66-77.
Funk, P.A., Terrazas, A.A., Yeater, K.M., Hardin IV, R.G., Armijo, C.B., Whitelock, D.P., Pelletier, M.G., Wanjura, J.D., Holt, G.A., Delhom, C.D. 2018. Procedures for moisture analytical tests used in cotton ginning research. Transactions of the ASABE. 61(6):1985-1995.
Funk, P.A., Hardin IV, R.G. 2017. Energy utilization and conservation in cotton gins. Journal of Cotton Science. 21(2):156-166.