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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

2018 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
Objective 1 Sub-objective 1A: Previous research by the unit had revealed that girdling of deficit-irrigated cotton plants, post cut-out, instigates an apoptosis senescence progression of cotton plants to achieve near perfect chemical-free defoliation and desiccation. To explore commercial feasibility of this new methodology; several field trials were conducted to evaluate the feasibility of the use of thermal girdling to achieve cotton defoliation and desiccation. The project examined the response of both field and outdoor grown potted cotton plants when treated with hot-soil, laser ablation, and directed hot-air to achieve thermal girdling. The project was completed with the publication of a peer-reviewed journal article covering the development and results of experimental tests. Sub-objective 1B: Field images were collected of plastic-contamination in cotton fields prior to harvest operations. Images were analyzed with several classifier algorithms that were designed to mitigate the influence of variable outdoor ambient lighting due to varying sun-angles and cloud cover. Results of the study indicate the machine-vision algorithms can identify the main types of plastic contaminants and provide a sound basis for transferring the algorithms to an embedded camera system suitable for on-harvester detection applications. Sub-objective 1C: Large scale, replicated, multi-variety studies were harvested with a cotton stripper equipped with a microwave sensor based yield monitor. Yield monitor error was measured for each plot by comparing the accumulated plot weight reported by the yield monitor to the total plot weight measured by a mobile reference scale system. Additional data were collected to investigate the relationship between yield monitor error and crop moisture content, foreign matter content, seed size, and fiber quality parameters. Preliminary results indicate that the yield monitor system error is on the order of +/- 12%. Sub-objective 1D: A system to measure cotton weight inside the basket of a commercial cotton harvester was designed and tested. Preliminary algorithms used with the first version of the system were revised to improve weight measurement accuracy. The final version of the system exhibited a weight measurement error less than 1%. Further improvement of the system operating methods to address issues with wind and terrain slope were implemented. Systems were installed on harvesters owned and operated by cooperating producers and they 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. Work is underway to integrate this system into the first self-calibrating yield monitor for cotton harvesters and publications are being prepared. Sub-objective 1E: In cooperation with a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) partner, a new field cleaner for cotton stripper harvesters was designed. After successful initial laboratory testing, the new three-saw field cleaner was field tested to document cleaning performance and influence on fiber quality under high throughput loading conditions. Results of both laboratory and field testing indicated improvements in seed cotton cleanliness with reduced seed cotton loss. Field testing of the new design revealed areas in the material conveying system that needed to be modified to maximize cotton flow into the cleaner. The new field cleaner with redesigned material flow path was installed on several pre-production cotton strippers by the CRADA partner and testing of these new machines will be conducted during the 2018 cotton harvest season. Objective 2 Sub-objective 2A: A field feasibility study was conducted to evaluate the potential for utilization of the unit’s previously developed swept-frequency microwave-moisture sensing methodologies. The project was completed with the publication of a peer-reviewed journal article covering the development and results of experimental tests. Sub-objective 2B: A cottonseed preconditioning system was built to remove some of the linters from the cottonseed prior to the mechanical delinter in order to enhance efficiency. Testing of the preconditioning system is ongoing and the preliminary results indicate a 3% to 5% residual lint removal prior to the mechanical delinter. Sub-objective 2C: A novel new chemical and adhesive-free bio-composite board was evaluated for acoustic-performance and suitability as an acoustic absorber. Testing was performed on the latest variant which was a “biofoam”, made from 100% mycelium, to see how it compared [as an acoustic absorber] to other acoustic absorbers, such as commercial offerings and previously evaluated mycelium bonded cotton-gin by-product substrates. The rationale behind the comparison was to provide data, for the collaborator, in determining whether or not the addition of the substrate enhanced the mycelium composite. The results of the testing will be presented at the upcoming Association for the Advancement of Industrial Crops meeting in September. Sub-objective 2D: A new gin stand was designed and fabricated for use in the breeder scale ginning system. The new gin stand incorporates the powered roll design to turn the seed roll, thus precluding the need for a human operator to manipulate the seed roll during ginning. Removing the “human element” from gin stand operation greatly improves safety, and the powered roll design decreases sample processing time and improves consistency in the lint samples collected for analysis. The new gin was installed and used by the CRADA partner to process about 2000 samples during the 2017/18 harvest season. Optimization testing was conducted on the new machine to identify proper saw and power roll speeds and additional testing is planned for FY18 to identify proper power roll insert settings for different initial seed cotton lot sizes. Sub-objective 2E: A low-cost high-speed machine-vision detection system was developed and prototyped for detection of plastic contamination that is suitable for use on cotton harvesters and in cotton gins. The system was tested and evaluated for efficacy in detection and identification of plastic contamination in a replicated trial at two ARS locations; Lubbock, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Results of the study showed that the system is able to recognize yellow and pink plastic module wrap in addition to black polypropylene (primarily used in vegetable mulch applications) and several new experimental module wrap colors that were provided by industry partners. Sub-objective 2F: The underlying physics associated with modeling cotton and plastic transport were explored and several approaches that could be utilized in computation-fluid-dynamic (CFD) models were identified. Plans were made for extending the research unit’s in-house CFD models to provide the additional functionality to include modeling of seed-cotton in pneumatic transport tubes. Identification of suitable electro-static models were also identified as well as the best means to incorporate those models into the unit’s CFD models. Sub-objective 2G: Design of a system to exclude plastic on cotton plants during the harvest operation were developed and plans were made for testing in FY19. Objective 3: Un-shelled nut samples were collected from the storage facilities at a nut processing facility to determine the mass of particulate matter that could potentially be emitted during the shelling operation. The samples were processed by USDA ARS researchers in Lubbock, Texas to remove all fine dust less than 100 micrometers in diameter. After weighing, particle size distribution analysis was conducted on the fine dust collected from each sample. The mass of total particulate matter (PM), PM less than 10 micrometers, and PM less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter per ton of raw nut material was reported to the cooperator. Additional onsite testing may be needed in FY19 to measure emission rates and address regulatory concerns.


Review Publications
Ashley, H., Thomas, J., Holt, G.A., Valco, T.D. 2018. Cottonseed air-handling and storage requirements. Journal of Cotton Science. 22(1):47-59.
Bajwa, D., Holt, G.A., Bajwa, S., Duke, S.E., McIntyre, G. 2017. Enhancement of termite resistance in mycelium reinforced biofiber-composites. Industrial Crops and Products.
Witt, T.W., Ulloa, M., Pelletier, M.G., Mendu, V., Ritchie, G.L. 2018. Exploring ethyl methaneSulfonate (EMS) treated cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) to improve drought tolerance. Euphytica. 214:123.
Holt, G.A., Dowd, M.K. 2018. Cottonseed and cotton plant biomass. International Cotton Advisory Committee Recorder. 36(2):3-5.
Hughs, S.E., Armijo, C.B., Wanjura, J.D., Whitelock, D.P. 2016. Dictionary of cotton: Picking & ginning. International Cotton Advisory Committee Recorder. Washington, DC: International Cotton Researchers Association and International Cotton Advisory Committee. p. 174.