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Contamination at cotton picking...

Irrespective of which harvesting method (conventional/round, spindle/stripper) you use to pick your cotton, the setup and adjustment of the picker, the training and skill of your operators, and the effectiveness of your defoliation all play a major role in the quality of fibre and seed quality.

Another major consideration is the contamination of cotton with foreign substances which can severely lower the value of the product - up to 30 per cent - and often cause major problems and increased costs for those processing the cotton, both at the gin and at the spinning mill.

Contaminants can either be natural (rocks, wood, leaf, bracts, bark, green leaf, burrs, grass and honeydew), or man-made (torn cotton tarps and plastic wrap, twine, oil, hydraulic oil, grease, pieces of metal and equipment, food wrappers, drink bottles, mobile phones, and cleaning rags). In Australia the biggest issue is plastic, since most of the crop is harvested with pickers that produce round modules covered with plastic wrap.

The first step to address the issue of plastic contamination is to prevent/avoid or minimise the plastic wrap from entering the production process, particularly during growing and harvesting.

So, what can you do?

  • Let your team/staff know of the consequences of contamination and provide them with the tools to clean up and isolate rubbish. For example, providing garbage bins in which all waste is thrown, and using only white cleaning rags.
  • Employ careful management and good practices, like Come Clean. Go Clean.
  • Where practical, remove plastic and other contaminating debris from the field prior to harvest.
  • Ensure that the picker is set-up according to the Operators Manual and that regular cleaning and servicing of the picker is conducted before, during and after harvest has been completed.
  • When transporting modules through harvested rows with a mast-type tractor, carry the module high enough to prevent drag and tearing of the underside of wrap.
  • Stage modules on high, flat and well drained areas of bare soil.
  • Stage modules as per the method of transport and storage at the gin - ie. end to end (sausage) or at 90° from end to end (wagon wheel).
  • Leave a gap between each module when placing them together for transport.
  • Repair significant wrap tears in the field prior to loading onto the module truck to prevent further wrap damage and ginning problems.
  • Secure loose outer tails with 3M™ Hi-strength 90 spray adhesive or lint bale repair tape.
  • Tag modules and notify the ginner of potential issues caused by malfunctions during harvesting.
  • When using module trucks with chain beds to load modules, ensure the chains have rounded cleats that will not puncture the plastic wrap.
  • When using flatbed trailers to load modules, ensure that modules are loaded by appropriate equipment without piercing the module wrap.

Australian cotton is recognised as the least contaminated cotton in the world and receives a premium - so any contaminants lower the value of the product and can potentially damage our reputation. 

Where to go for more information?

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Header image courtesy Renee Anderson, Emerald.

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