Avoid ‘sticky’ reputation

Why we must avoid gaining a 'sticky cotton' reputation


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With the move to round bales, 'sticky' cotton is growing as an issue for Australian cotton exporters.

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The International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) recently released its 2005-2016 Cotton Contamination Survey, and the good news is Australia is ranked number one on the list of the least contaminated cotton origins.

This is an improvement from Australia’s sixth placed ranking in the last survey in 2013 and the great result has been achieved during a period when our industry has moved predominantly to round modules and there has been significant concern about plastic wrap contamination.

In an effort to shed more light on spinners’ perceptions of the problem of cotton contamination and foreign matter, the ITMF has conducted regular surveys since 1982 with spinning mills affiliated to its world-wide membership.

In the 2016 report, 90 spinning mills located in 22 countries evaluated 71 different cotton growths.

For decades, spinners have produced evidence of all kinds of foreign matter found inside cotton bales which could often be eliminated by hand if spinning was still largely a labour-intensive processing technology.

Arthur Spellson, Australian Cotton Shippers Association, says Australia must remain vigilant about cotton contamination.

Arthur Spellson, Australian Cotton Shippers Association, says Australia must remain vigilant about cotton contamination.

Following extensive modernisation of production equipment in recent years, processing steps which previously required the intervention of manual labour are increasingly performed by machines.

The biggest problem which automation presents for cotton relates to cleanliness. Automated equipment can detect and eliminate contamination or foreign matter only to a limited degree.

In the case of plastic material - one of the most vicious forms of contamination - the damage often becomes visible only by the time the fabric leaves the final finishing process, at which stage it is too late to apply any remedy.

It is not only affecting the quality and appearance of the final textile product, but may actually damage the processing machinery itself.

By accumulating evidence of contamination and foreign matter at regular intervals, ITMF helps cotton producers, merchants and spinners to better identify problem areas and thus contribute towards their eradication.

Low, or zero contamination levels are one of the main selling points of Australian cotton and helps us to sell our entire crop every year as well as achieve premiums over cotton from other origins.

It is extremely important that we maintain our reputation for low contamination - a reputation that has been challenged in recent years since the introduction of round modules.

It is extremely important that we maintain our reputation for low contamination - a reputation that has been challenged in recent years since the introduction of round modules.

Round modules and the associated plastic wrap, introduced a major potential contamination source to our supply chain. With around 930 grams of plastic wrap being used for every bale of cotton we produce in Australia using round modules, likely around 90 per cent of the crop, then for a four million bale crop we will introduce 3,384 metric tons of module wrap plastic into our supply chain!

Understandably many of our spinning mill customers have raised concerns about plastic wrap contamination largely due to instances of yellow plastic wrap being found in Australian cotton over the past four to five years.

It is essential that our industry does all it can to prevent plastic wrap making its way into cotton bales.

This responsibility lies with picker operators and growers to ensure wrap is applied properly and instances of problems like double wrap and “pig tales”, (pieces of wrap present within the module due to picker malfunction) being tagged and notification of the same advised to the ginner, and with ginners who need to make sure wrap is correctly removed from modules at the gin.

While Australia’s ranking improved for contamination our ranking for stickiness fell from being the origin 12th least effected by stickiness in 2013 to being the 13th least effected by stickiness in the 2016 survey.

It is concerning to see Australian cotton slip in the rankings. Across the whole survey there was a significant reduction in stickiness from the 2013 survey to the 2016 survey.

This is good news for cotton in general and a wakeup call for Australia as we cannot afford to develop a reputation for having sticky cotton.

With whitefly now present in all major Australian cotton growing areas we need to remain vigilant and ensure we do not deliver sticky cotton to our customers. A reputation for sticky cotton can severely affect the demand and therefore price of cotton from a particular origin, even to the point of threatening its viability as a crop option.​ 

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