Budget cuts that threaten ginning and fiber quality research programs, and increasing regulatory issues continue as key concerns for the ginning industry, says Lee Tiller, president of the National Cotton Ginners Association.

“The Clemson fiber research facility was closed last October,” he said at the annual meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and Foundation, held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.

“Unless this research can be conducted at another facility, we will have lost a vital link between the ginning laboratories and the textile industry. It’s our understanding that with the help of the national ginners organization and the National Cotton Council, some of the Clemson research will now be conducted at the Southern Regional Research Center at New Orleans.”

Ginners and the entire cotton industry rely heavily on the three USDA ginning laboratories for much of the basic research that has facilitated fiber quality improvements, says Tiller, who is manager of Smith Gin Co-op at Odem, Texas.

“With every federal agency’s budget cut, it will be even more imperative that we support these USDA ginning labs and that all segments of our industry work to insure that these facilities are adequately funded so they can continue their valuable research and training programs.”

In the past year, he said, the NCGA and other groups have worked to retain the position of Cotton technology transfer and Education Coordinator for the Office of Technology Transfer held by Tommy Valco and located at the Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center at Stoneville, Miss.

“Tommy is the point person for technology transfer between the ginning industry and the Agricultural Research Service,” Tiller says, “and it is important that we have assurance that his position will continue as it has in the past.

“Given recent and upcoming budget cuts, the ginning industry can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. There is little doubt that in the future the three USDA ginning labs and important USDA staff positions may be in jeopardy.”

The U.S. ginning industry is continually striving “to supply the highest quality fiber possible tour customers,” he says, “and we work closely with the ginning labs and Cotton Incorporated to insure that quality-related research is ongoing. Our goal is to produce the best quality fiber in the world.

“Several years ago, our national ginner organization began establishing a dialogue with our foreign mill customers to promote U.S. cotton quality by reviewing USDA classing data and the research projects that are currently under way.

“This past year, NCGA had the opportunity to present this information during Cotton Council International’s ‘Cotton USA’ orientation tour, which included 32 foreign textile executives, representing 14 countries and 28 foreign textile mills.

“We emphasized the gains made in U.S. cotton quality over the past 10 years and detailed the extensive research by our ginning industry to improve fiber quality. Later this year, two of our ginners will travel to China to meet with industry leaders and reinforce the gains we have made in fiber quality.”

While the 2010 national elections lessened the likelihood that some legislative initiatives will pass in Congress, Tiller says “the reality is that regulations can and will be used to achieve the goals of some activists. While some OSHA and EPA initiatives have been placed on hold, new regulatory proposals — or other means to achieve the same outcome — continue to surface.

“Even though several pieces of onerous legislation and proposed rules have either been pulled or modified, there are a number of initiatives that could potentially affect our industry. We continue to maintain a strong working relationship with the National Cotton Council, and we rely heavily on their staff to monitor many of the regulatory issues that ginners face.”

Air quality

NCGA, Tiller says, is closely monitoring a number of air quality issues, ranging from the current implementation of EPA regulations to legislation related to climate change.

“Four years ago, our industry decided to develop a plan to obtain accurate measurements of emissions from gins across the cotton belt. Derek Whitelock, lead scientist for the project, reported at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences that sampling of gins has been done in California, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, and North Carolina.

“The release of the PM 2.5 fine particulate matter factor from this study is targeted for the first quarter of this year. The Cotton Foundation and the Southern Cotton Ginners Association contributed financially to this project, and it is noteworthy that no other industry has gone to this extent to determine the correct factors for emissions.”

Although Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson has indicated she will not propose any changes to the current standard for PM 10, Tiller says, “and while we are thankful for this, the EPA continues to review and implement regulations that have an impact on the ginning industry.

“Questions remain about the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and changes and levels of PM 2.5. We’re considering a new standard that would decrease the current coarse particulate matter threshold by roughly one-half. If the standard had been adopted, it could have placed more regions of the cotton belt into a non-attainment status, which would have caused gins to install more costly pollution controls.

“The possibility of expensive pollution control requirements remains a major concern for our industry.”

There is “no doubt,” Tiller says, that “activism by federal agencies such as OSHA and the Department of Labor will require gins to be more diligent in adhering to all requirements.

“Last year, a proposal included a change in the term ‘feasible’ as pertains to noise control and hearing conservation, and while OSHA has reversed its decision to continue its definition as in the past, hearing conservation remains a top priority for the agency.

“Another proposal we’re monitoring closely is the Illness Injury Protection Program and its potential impact on our industry. After years of discussion, there was a recent announcement in the Federal Register that a panel will be seated to review this program, which has been described as ‘a dream come true’ for unions and labor.’

“Combustible dust became a concern for gins in 2009, when an OSHA notice of proposed rulemaking erroneously listed a cotton gin as having had a dust explosion. We know that the explosion was, in fact, a flash fire that occurred when a door was opened on a battery condenser. But even without that incident, it was feared that gins could be included in the final rule.

“Tests at Texas A&M have shown that gin dust is impossible to combust, even at levels as high as 1,000 grams per cubic meter. Gin dust simply has too much inorganic dirt in it to combust under normal circumstances.

The Texas A&M data were included in the NCGA comments, Tiller says, along with a request to correct the record of the incident in the notice of proposed rulemaking.

“In the past few weeks, OSHA has indicated that combustible dust will be a ‘long term action item.’”

Employment regs

“Many employment issues continue to cause problems for our ginners, and we continue to provide assistance and materials to assist our members in adhering to the many rules and regulations. With increased enforcement and the possibility of fines, it is important that ginners abide by all labor laws, OSHA rules, and other regulations.”

Bale moisture restoration at the gin and the ability measure bale moisture correctly also continue as industry concerns, Tiller says.

“Last year, NCGA requested that Rick Byler at the USDA Ginning Laboratory at Stoneville compare and evaluate the accuracy of various commercially available moisture measuring devices. This was done after merchants rejected bales in the Southeast that were based on moisture measurements done with handheld probes. The merchants cited both National Cotton Council policy and Memphis Cotton Exchange rules.

“The rejections prompted calls for a review of NCC policy and in response, NCGA established a Bale Moisture Policy Review Committee. Since so many questions remain unanswered, NCGA has not sought changes to the NCC policy regarding moisture restoration at the gin, and the committee decided to have Dr. Byler continue his evaluation of measuring devices.”

It is “vitally important” that gin employees be well-trained, Tiller says, “and we’re confident that our ginning schools at the USDA labs are helping fill the need for competent workers.

“During the past several years, NCGA has been modifying the schools’ continuing education component by including topics important not only to ginners, but to gin managers and superintendents. We will continue to enhance programs at the three schools so they will remain relevant and meet the needs of our industry.”

This year’s school will be March 26-28 at the South Plains Ginning Laboratory at Lubbock, Texas; May 8-10 at the Southwest Ginning Research Laboratory at Mesilla Park, N.M.; and June 12-14 at the at the Stoneville, Miss., facility. Details are available on the NCGA website: http://www.cotton.org/ncga/

The Cotton Ginners Certification Program has continued to grow since its launch in 1992, Tiller says, and more than 300 ginners are now actively participating in the program.

One Mid-South ginner, Travis Childs, Jr., completed the stringent course requirements in 2011 and has been awarded the Certified Ginner designation.

“Many issues continue to pose challenges for ginners,” Tiller says, “and our industry will need to remain diligent and prepared to protect our interests.”