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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Cotton Production and Processing Research » Research » Research Project #429210

Research Project: Enhancing the Profitability and Sustainability of Upland Cotton, Cottonseed, and Agricultural Byproducts through Improvements in Pre- and Post-Harvest Processing

Location: Cotton Production and Processing Research

2017 Annual Report

Objective 1: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new commercial equipment and processes for harvesting, storing, and pre-processing Upland cotton; resulting in (1) lower use of chemicals, and (2) enhanced cleanliness and quality of the seed cotton, cottonseed, and/or lint fiber. Subobjective 1A: Develop technology for chemical free cotton pre-harvest defoliation and desiccation treatments. Subobjective 1B: Develop sensing technology for monitoring/control of cotton during harvest operations. Subobjective 1C: Evaluate the accuracy of microwave sensor based cotton yield monitoring systems and investigate the relationships between yield measurement error and crop characteristics and environmental parameters. Subobjective 1D: Develop technology for improving the accuracy and reliability of cotton yield monitor data. Subobjective 1E: Develop technology for improving the cleanliness of harvested seed cotton and the efficiency and productivity of cotton harvest. Objective 2: Enable new commercial technologies and methods for post-harvest processing of stripper-harvested seed cotton, cottonseed, lint fiber and/or agricultural byproducts that preserve and/or enhance quality/value, storage, and utilization. Subobjective 2A: Develop sensing technology for identification and control of cotton gin moisture control systems. Subobjective 2B: Develop commercially viable means of delinting cottonseed, to produce planting quality (naked) seed, without the use of chemicals. Subobjective 2C: Develop and evaluate the use of cotton gin byproducts in the manufacture of composite materials. Subobjective 2D: Develop methods and technology for improving the quality and productivity of Southern High Plains cotton. Sub-objective 2E: Develop sensing technology for detection of contaminants in seed-cotton and cotton lint during post-harvest operations. Sub-objective 2F: Develop simulation models for use in enabling rapid development of cotton-gin based contamination removal machinery. Sub-objective 2G: Develop machinery for detection and removal of contaminants in seed-cotton during harvest operations. 3: Enhance the knowledge base pertaining to measurement, characterization, and estimation of non-combustion source particulate matter emitted from agricultural production and processing operations.

This five-year project plan addresses critical production, harvesting, and processing issues facing cotton producers and processors in the United States. Our plan of work is based on an interactive research approach which emphasizes the development of improved harvest preparation, mechanical harvesting, lint cleaning, cottonseed processing equipment, and in finding suitable uses for cotton byproducts and/or waste materials. The planned research targets two critical areas: 1) harvest, storing, and pre-processing technologies for Upland cotton, and 2) innovative post-harvest processing of seed cotton, cottonseed, lint fiber, and/or cotton byproducts and co-products. Commercial viability of the research is a key component of any problem solution.

Progress Report
Subobjective 1A: Project was completed with the publication of a peer-reviewed journal article covering the development and results of experimental tests. Subobjective 1B: Software was written to help in the development of plastic contamination sensors that are suitable for use on cotton harvesters and in cotton gins. This software was then utilized to generate several test classifiers for use in testing and evaluation of machine vision plastic contamination sensing systems. The software also included a real-time computational engine enabling application of the classifier algorithms in real-time, 60 frames per second, to allow sensor detection of a prototype plastic-contamination removal apparatus. Subobjective 1C: A yield monitoring system was installed on a commercial cotton stripper during harvest of several large scale, replicated variety, tests during the 2016/17 cotton harvest season. Accuracy of the yield monitor was evaluated on a whole plot basis using reference weights measured by a mobile scale system. Additional data collected during harvest and ginning included seed cotton moisture content, variety, foreign matter content, seed size, and High Volume Instrument fiber quality parameters. These additional data will be used to investigate, in greater detail, yield monitor error. Preliminary results indicate that the yield monitor system error is on the order of +/- 12% but additional testing is planned for the fall/winter of 2017 to help elucidate the relationship between system error and environmental, crop, and fiber quality parameters. Subobjective 1D: An on-harvester cotton weight measurement system was designed and installed on a cotton stripper. Successful initial testing lead to further development and system improvements. Testing was conducted on 4 commercial cotton strippers operated by cooperating producers in for the 2016 harvest season (FY17). New operating procedures were developed to address issues with wind and terrain slope. Cooperating producers provided positive feedback in regard to the simplicity of the system and ease of use. Many stated that the system would greatly enhance their ability to conduct on-farm research. Manuscripts detailing the system design and testing are being written. Additional work to incorporate this system into the first self-calibrating yield monitoring system are underway and additional testing is planned for the 2017 harvest season. Subobjective 1E: A new three-saw field cleaner was designed for use on commercial cotton stripper harvesters. Initial laboratory testing was conducted using an existing two-saw field cleaner to simulate the performance of the new three-saw design. Results of the laboratory test indicated improvements in seed cotton cleanliness with reduced seed cotton loss, prompting additional field testing during the harvest season of in 2016 (FY17). Field testing of the new design indicated increased cleaning efficiency but material flow through the machine needed to be optimized to reduce chokes leading to excessive downtime. A new version of the three saw design with an optimized material flow path and 75 inch overall width has been designed and installed on a commercial cotton stripper. Testing of the improved three drum field cleaner will be conducted during the 2017 cotton harvest season. Subobjective 2A: Moisture sensing algorithms were developed from laboratory data collected on high-end microwave test equipment from seed-cotton micro-modules produced in several 2016 harvest season field-trials (FY17). Results were compiled into a manuscript and published in 2017. Based upon this work, preliminary designs for prototypes instruments have been developed for construction and deployment in 2018. Subobjective 2B: A larger-scale, 8-ft length, prototype was completed and tested and the results reported at professional society meetings. The unit prototype has garnered significant interest from stakeholders and has been demonstrated to several companies considering building a commercial-scale prototype for field evaluation. Slight modifications continue with the 8-ft prototype to overcome some of the minor issues pointed out by stakeholders during the demonstrations. Subobjective 2C: Several novel fungal mycelium based sound panels were tested and evaluated for use as acoustic absorbers. Tests include three types of panels (pure mycelium, soft mycelium-agricultural byproduct, pressure-hardened mycelium-agricultural byproduct). Results of the study indicate that the pure mycelium panels exhibit superior acoustic absorption properties in comparison to traditional acoustic absorption media. This work also resulted in the development of a new low cost acoustic test method. Subobjective 2D: A new gin stand was designed for use in the breeder-scale ginning system. Fabrication of the new gin is under way and testing of the new system is planned for the end of 2017. The new gin stand incorporates a powered-seed roll design which will help automate the process of ginning samples for cotton breeders and agronomists. It is anticipated that the new gin will improve sample processing consistency and, therefore, produce more consistent lint samples for fiber quality analysis by removing the need for human manipulation of the seed roll. This design also provides for other benefits in regard to worker safety, sample processing speed, and data quality.

1. Onboard cotton harvester system for weighing and calibrating yield monitor. A novel system for measuring cotton weight onboard commercial cotton harvesters was developed and successfully tested by researchers in Lubbock, Texas. The system uses hydraulic pressure measured in the harvester basket lift cylinder circuit along with a specially developed algorithm to calculate the weight of cotton in the harvester basket. Plot average seed cotton yield is calculated from the hydraulic weight measurement and area harvested measured by an integral GPS system. The system provides essential weight data for producers or researchers seeking to calibrate cotton yield monitors, and it can be used as a stand-alone tool to conduct on-farm research in which total plot seed cotton yield is the evaluation metric. This system costs about $5,000 to build and install, saving producers or researchers on the order of $45,000 for a mobile scale system typically used to provide seed cotton weight measurements. Through the development of this system, producers now have access to low-cost, reliable cotton weight data on a real-time basis which will help them adopt site specific management practices which can save thousands of dollars each year in reduced input costs.

2. Agricultural by-products replace fossil-fuel based acoustic absorbers for noise suppression. There is a need to utilize agricultural by-products while minimizing fossil-fuel materials in an effort to become more sustainable. Researchers in Lubbock, Texas examined the use of a novel renewable resource in acoustic absorption applications. The material is an all-natural biopolymer that consists of a combination of processed agricultural by-products and fungal mycelium. This new biopolymer provides an alternative to Styrofoam, closed cell foams and synthetic honeycombs. The study found that these new panels exhibit superior acoustical absorption properties, in comparison to traditional acoustic ceiling panels constructed from fossil-fuel based synthetic fibers and unhealthy formaldehyde glues. The results of the study indicate these mycelium panels are a promising bio-based all-natural fiber alternative for acoustic shielding products, which can provide a sustainable alternative to traditional acoustic absorbers.

3. Low-cost acoustic method provides increased accuracy. Accepted acoustic testing instruments are available; however, they cost in excess of $25,000 as they require specialized hardware and software that are typically out of reach economically to the occasional practitioner. What is needed is a simple and inexpensive screening method that can provide a quick comparison for rapid identification of the most promising samples to be tested. Researchers in Lubbock, Texas evaluated sustainable all-natural agricultural acoustic panels and developed a novel low-cost acoustic test method that can be built for under $2,500. The new method reduces the number of required microphones to a single microphone and removes the need for simultaneous capture and extensive signal-processing analysis. In addition to the dramatic 10:1 reduction in cost of the instrument, the study discovered several unique accuracy advantages of this new method in comparison to the existing standard methods. The proposed new method provides an easy-to-use technique that requires little in the way of equipment and can be set up with minimal training and expense.

Review Publications
Holt, G.A., Wedegaertner, T.W., Wanjura, J.D., Pelletier, M.G., Delhom, C.D., Duke, S.E. 2017. Development and evaluation of a novel bench-top mechanical cottonseed delinter for cotton breeders. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:18-28.
Pelletier, M.G., Holt, G.A., Wanjura, J.D. 2017. Chemical-free cotton defoliation by mechanical, flame and laser girdling. Agronomy Journal. 7(9):1-18. doi: 10.3390/agronomy7010009.
Pelletier, M.G., Holt, G.A., Wanjura, J.D., Lara, A.J., Tapia-Carillo, A., Mcintyre, G., Bayer, E. 2016. An evaluation study of pressure-compressed acoustic absorbers grown on agricultural by-products. Industrial Crops and Products. 95:342-347.
Pelletier, M.G., Holt, G.A., Wanjura, J.D. Simplified three microphone acoustic test method. Instruments. 1(1):4-24. 2017.
Van Der Sluijs, R., Holt, G.A. 2017. Survey results of the research needs and requirements of the ginning industries in Australia and the United States. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:40-50.
Ziegler, A.R., Bajwa, S.G., Holt, G.A., McIntyre, G., Bajwa, D.S. 2016. Evaluation of physico-mechanical properties of mycelium reinforced green biocomposites made from cellulosic fibers. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 32(6):931-938.
Pelletier, M.G., Wanjura, J.D., Holt, G.A. 2016. Microwave moisture sensing of seedcotton: Part 1: Seedcotton microwave material properties. Sensors. 16(11):1843-1863.
Bajwa, D.S., Bajwa, S.G., Wedegaertner, T.C., Holt, G.A. 2016. Physical processing and emission characteristics of firelogs from cotton ginning byproducts. Journal of Cotton Science. 20:367–374.
Wanjura, J.D., Baker, K.D., Barnes, E.M. 2017. Harvesting. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:70-80.
Porter, W.M., Wanjura, J.D., Taylor, R.K., Boman, R.K., Buser, M.D. 2017. Tracking cotton fiber quality and foreign matter through a stripper harvester. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:29-29.