The Bush administration's budget recommendation that two of the country's three cotton ginning labs be closed is both ill advised and shortsighted, say cotton industry representatives.
The administration's budget would eliminate ginning laboratories at both Lubbock, Texas, and Las Cruces, N. M., leaving only a gin lab at Stoneville, Miss., to serve the entire cotton belt.
Ed Hughs, USDA-ARS research leader at the Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory in Las Cruces, said the New Mexico facility has improved roller gin efficiency and has made those gins adaptable to upland cotton as well as the long staple varieties.
The cuts would be part of a proposed 11 percent cut in the USDA-ARS budget, according to Ed Knipling, administrator of USDA-ARS in Washington.
Knipling said decisions on which facilities to eliminate are based on “relevance factors and similar work performed in other locations. Those are tough decisions,” Knipling said. “The cuts are part of a judgment process and not by formula.”
Steve Verett, executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers can see “no rationale,” for recommendations that ginning labs in Lubbock and Las Cruces be shut down. “It's just budget cuts,” he said. He also said the cuts make no sense since each of the three ginning laboratories perform unique functions.
“Across the Cotton Belt, we have three distinct ginning processes and two completely different harvesting methods that require different ginning processes.”
High Plains farmers use mostly strippers to harvest cotton. In the Mid-South and Southeast, farmers rely on pickers. Different types of cotton, Pima, for instance, also require different ginning techniques, Verett said.
“The gin lab in Stoneville works mostly on picker-type cotton. The lab at Lubbock works on stripper cotton and the Las Cruces facility focuses on long staple cotton,” he said.
Hughes said the New Mexico facility has improved roller gin efficiency and has made those gins adaptable to upland cotton as well as the long staple varieties grown in California, Arizona, parts of New Mexico and Texas.
“We've also worked in partnership with the labs in Lubbock and Stoneville to solve common ginning problems,” he said. Cooperative efforts include air pollution studies.
Hughes said the Las Cruces lab also developed processes to preserve the fiber qualities of long staple cotton. “Pima is a high-dollar value cotton,” he said. The New Mexico lab has developed methods to increase gin processing speeds for Pima and other high value cotton types while preserving fiber properties. He said ginning efficiency has increased from one-and-one-half bales per hour to six bales per hour without fiber quality loss.
He said the process helps preserve fiber characteristics in upland varieties such as high quality FiberMax and other improved lines. “This is what international customers want,” he said.
Hughes and Verett said consolidating all three gins, and preserving the unique characteristics of each, into the Stoneville facility, will not be feasible. They say getting the people necessary would be difficult and moving the needed equipment would cost millions of dollars.
Neither believes consolidation will happen.
Russell Kuhnhenn, president of the National Cotton Ginners Association, said closing the two labs would damage not only the Southwest and Far West cotton industry but also would have repercussions across the belt. The labs work on regional as well as beltwide problems, he said.
“They (two gins) are working on moisture sensors throughout the ginning process,” he said. “They also are trying to find a more accurate means to measure particulate matter and ways to address these issues.”
He said the National Cotton ginners Association “strongly recommends that Congress restore funding to the two cotton ginning labs.”