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Microgin to help improve Georgia cotton quality

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia's cotton industry has a problem, and it's costing farmers and the state money. But scientists and industry leaders say a new University of Georgia facility will help them solve this problem before it gets worse.

A cotton microgin is being built on the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' Tifton, Ga., campus. It will be used primarily by the UGA CAES cotton team to help Georgia farmers improve their cotton fiber quality.

Poor fiber quality has been a costly problem for Georgia farmers for many years. Last year alone, it stripped $43 million in potential income from Georgia farmers, said CAES cotton economist Don Shurley. The production value of Georgia's 2002 crop was around $356 million.

Georgia farmers are penalized about 5 cents per pound of cotton due to fiber quality deductions, Shurley said.

"What we've got to do is find a way to keep this lost money in Georgia farmers' pockets," Shurley said. "That money can help keep those communities that depend on cotton income in jobs and afloat."

The same, just smaller

Farmers deliver their cotton to gins, usually in large modules that can weigh around 10,000 pounds. The primary purpose of a standard, high-capacity gin is to separate the cotton seed from the cotton lint. The lint is used to make shirts, jeans and other products. The seed is used to make oil and feed for livestock.

The UGA microgin has been designed to handle cotton just like a large gin, just on a smaller scale. It will allow scientists to more efficiently collect data from smaller, experimental cotton samples.

The samples will vary from a few pounds to 50 pounds, said Craig Bednarz, a CAES cotton physiologist. Bednarz chairs the microgin project committee.

The building will be about the size of a tall barn. The gin is designed to have plexiglass sides so visitors can see what actually happens to the fiber during the ginning process.

Georgia's problems

"This microgin will give researchers and producers the data and tools needed to develop better management practices and ways to handle cotton and address cotton problems specific to this area of the country," Bednarz said.

The mission of this facility won't duplicate microgins in other parts of the United States, said Georgia Cotton Commission Executive Director Richey Seaton.

"This facility will support the entire spectrum of cotton research here in Georgia and in the Southeastern region," Seaton said.

Cotton farmers are struggling through a period of low prices. The industry will have to find ways to reduce costs and save money to remain competitive in the world market. "But not at the expense of yields or fiber quality," Seaton said.

The microgin will provide a facility for UGA geneticists, economists, molecular biologists, plant breeders, physiologists, animal scientists and agronomists to not only help farmers, but also work closely with the textile industry and address its concerns.

The microgin will cost around $1.5 million. Funds have come from the Georgia General Assembly and federal sources, said David Bridges, assistant dean for the UGA Tifton campus.

Cotton fiber quality is graded in six categories: color, staple (length), micronaire (a measure of the fiber surface area), strength, uniformity and extraneous matter.

When Georgia farmers deliver their cotton to a gin, a sample is sent to a federal facility in Macon, Ga., to be graded. Cotton from the microgin will go through the same process.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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