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Plastic Bale Wrapping And Debris Are Contaminating Texas Cotton At Record Levels

Kimberly Vardeman/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

In south Texas, cotton farmers are beginning to reap what they've sown. The harvest season starts in the Rio Grande Valley, and slowly creeps north throughout the fall. Whether it's drought, hail, flood, or pests, there's plenty that can go wrong while growing cotton. But farmers aren't clear of the hazards once they get the crop out of the ground. They still have to avoid cotton contamination. That's something that Jimmy Roppolo knows quite a bit about. He's the general manager of United Ag Cooperative in El Campo, where they're starting to gin this season's cotton.

Roppolo says mills are finding plastic in cotton they receive for ginning, That plastic contaminates the cotton, making it difficult to process.

"Not only are we talking about plastic from the John Deere balers that actually wrap the cotton in a plastic… wrap, but we're also talking about plastic bags in fields around shopping centers, along the roads… anything that gets into the cotton that's being harvested, or through the ginning process," Roppolo says.

Plastic has alway been an issue for cotton producers, but the use of machines that wrap cotton after it's picked has exacerbated the problem.

Roppolo says last year was the first time every classing office that evaluated cotton found plastic in samples.

"About 60 percent of the samples that were found to have plastic in them were yellow or pink, which actually comes from the John Deere picker. It's the major color of the two wraps they use," Roppolo says. "So 40 percent of it came from somewhere else."

Roppolo says Hurricane Harvey could have played a role, as cotton processors hurried to get their crop harvested and baled. "They might have took some shortcuts," he says.

Roppolo says producers want to solve the plastic problem quickly, to protect the market and reputation of U.S. Cotton.

"We want to maintain that image as having the very cleanest cotton," he says.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

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