Until there are meaningful standards developed to measure stickiness in cotton lint, California will continue its zero tolerance of stickiness in high quality, San Joaquin Valley cotton.

“High quality cotton has been the San Joaquin Valley's past, and it will be our future,” pledged California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations president Earl Williams. “That is our promise and that's our commitment, and let it be our warning to anyone that puts this reputation at risk.”

Williams has been the point person in an aggressive, no-holds-barred anti-stickiness cotton campaign initiated in California last season, and he brought his tough-talking message to the Beltwide Cotton Production Conference here for the rest of the industry to hear about first hand.

It won the praise of Mark Williams, Farwell, Texas cotton grower who is chairman of American Cotton Producers. He called the California anti-stickiness campaign a good example of a cooperative effort to solve an industry problem.

SJV cotton's long standing reputation for high quality lint was threatened when mills throughout the world complained about sticky Acala and Pima lint from the 2001 crop caused by generally late season silverleaf whitefly and aphids emitting honeydew on lint.

Rather than ignoring it as the industry had done in the past, Williams said all segments decided to face the problem head on with a highly visible campaign to encourage producers and consultants to monitor and treat insects that cause lint damage.

The grower is the first line of defense, and Williams said generally growers responded. The stickiness problem was apparently reduced last season, and it happened under insect pressure similar to the year before.

“The overall problem was reduced substantially from 2001, even though the industry-sponsored bi-weekly surveys of aphid and whitefly populations at 375 locations throughout the San Joaquin Valley indicated much wider spread and in some cases more intense populations in 2002 as compared to 2001,” Williams said. Control material usage for aphids and whitefly were up by four times in 2002 vs. the season before, Williams added.

However, Williams refuses to claim unqualified success. “To say or believe we solved this problem in one crop year would be foolish and virtually impossible, but it was not from a lack of commitment on behalf of our entire industry,” he said.

So far mills have not complained about sticky SJV upland or Pima cotton this season and that has been “extremely encouraging.” Williams adding, however, that mills are just now receiving 2002 crop SJV cotton and there is still cotton being ginned.

Williams said the industry's hard line, zero tolerance of stickiness campaign was called risky in an already weakened industry.

“Some say it was bold; some say it was risky, but most in California's cotton industry says it was fair; it was necessary and it was the right thing to do.

Proud of support

“I'm proud of the widespread industry support of this hard line approach, and I can tell you that we intend to keep the heat turned up in the future on this issue,” he promised.

There is an obvious hole in the anti-stickiness defense strategy. It is that there are no reliable, economical ways to accurately measure lint stickiness; its impact on cotton spinning and how to relate that back to field insect populations.

Williams said Cotton Incorporated, National Cotton Council, the International Textile Center in Lubbock are “working overtime” on this issue, “much to our satisfaction.

“I believe there must be standards developed to quantify what the different levels or measurements of stickiness in cotton fiber means in terms of values and affects on qualities of cotton in the marketplace,” Williams said.

Once these are developed, the problem will be solved and the different industry segments will be taken out of the “unpleasant, but necessary position of policing every bale to protect the good reputation of an industry.”

However distasteful that may be, Williams pledged that the California industry will continue to adhere to a zero tolerance level for sticky cotton until those measuring protocols are developed.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com