Kelley says the plastic contamination issue is not strictly a grower or gin issue. It is an industry-wide issue.

“This could be a potential disaster for U.S. cotton if we do not take this situation seriously,” Kelley said.

Harrison Ashley of Cordova, Tenn. says cotton growers and ginners have dealt with thinner plastic shopping bags for years. Growers remove plastic bags littering the sides of fields before harvest. Bags blown into the field are hard to find due to the heavy plant canopy as pickers and strippers harvest cotton.

At the gin level, Ashley says cleaning equipment does a fairly good job of removing thinner mil plastic. The thicker module plastic is more difficult to remove.

The NCGA asked agricultural engineer Richard Byler of the USDA-ARS cotton ginning lab in Stoneville, Miss. to run different plastics through a micro gin to determine how well the ginning equipment cleaned the cotton.

Most smaller, thinner plastic pieces were removed by the cylinder cleaners. Some thicker plastic was removed by the extractors but a large amount survived the ginning process.

The NCGA, the National Cotton Council, Cotton Incorporated, USDA, and John Deere are working on the plastic issue.

Last fall, USDA and NCC staff visited gins to learn how gins unwrap round modules. The methods ranged from a simple box cutter to a $400,000 Stover system.

Kelley says it’s important to carefully cut and remove module wrap at the gin.

“Don’t take a lackadaisical attitude that the plastic is not getting into the cotton,” Kelley said.

Ashley advises ginners to make sure cotton modules are picked up carefully without tearing the lip of round modules.