Seed Coat Fragments Another Problem for Alabama Cotton Producers

Clint Thompson Alabama, Cotton

A trained cotton classer opening samples to inspect for extraneous matter. Credit: AMS Cotton & Tobacco Program.

As if cotton prices were not low enough, some producers across the Southeast are being penalized for seed coat fragments. It’s a deduction that costs farmers 4.45 cents per pound, said Steve Brown, Alabama Extension cotton specialist.

“It’s a double whammy because you got punished on yields, and now you’re getting punished on fiber quality, too,” Brown said.

Brown said this year has been unprecedented across the lower Southeast in terms of seed coat fragments. The Agricultural Marketing Service Macon, Georgia Classing Office is where all of Georgia’s cotton, Florida’s cotton and about 60% of Alabama’s cotton is sent.

“They evaluate for a lot of different things. Most of it is done by machine. Then the classer, the human person that loads the little bit of cotton into the machine, they open the sample and look for what’s generally termed as extraneous matter. That can be anything from Walmart plastic bags or some evidence of plastic twine. It can be grass, it can be bark. One of the extraneous matters are seed coat fragments,” Brown said.

“Really, what they’re talking about is in the ginning process, as the seed cotton goes through the saws, rather than just shave the lint off the seed, the seed are getting crumbled up and going into the lint fragment. When you get a bale of cotton, you get pieces of the seed into that bale and into that fiber. It’s a negative.”

USDA Report

According to the USDA, the Macon, GA Classing Office has classed 2.2 million samples, of which approximately 895,000 contained seed coat fragments.

Brown added that it can be ground-up seed, or it can be extremely small seed or underdeveloped seed that gets through the ginning process and falls with the lint and gets in the lint sample.”

The latest USDA Macon Classing Office Quality Report shows how devastating the seed coat fragments have been this year.

“The extraneous matter called seed coat fragments for the season are 41% of the bales. Probably never before has it been anything over 1% or so. That’s true of the cotton coming from the southern portion of Alabama, Florida and Georgia,” Brown said.

Why the Problem?

With the barrage of seed coat fragments, producers and industry experts are asking why? The answer may be weather related.

“The predominant thought, and I ascribe to this, is the significant amount of rainfall we had in the fall plus the warm conditions we had throughout much of the fall… when you get a lot of rain on an open boll, sometimes that seed in the boll will sprout. When that seed germinates, it’s terrible for ginning. I really think the abundance of rainfall and the prevailing warm temperatures, the seed just deteriorated in the field,” Brown said. “The second thing maybe, we simply just didn’t make a late crop. We had a lot of immature seed in the top of the plant and they moved into the lint fraction as well as being recognized as seed coat fragments.

“The easy answer is a lot of rain. The crop saw a lot of rain in the fall coupled with very warm temperatures. The seed deteriorated and weathered in the field. It really was a problem as it went through the gin.”

Already a Tough Year

It was already a tough year for Alabama cotton producers as multiple hurricanes devastated the southern part of the state, reducing yields and crop quality in those areas.

The cause of the seed coat fragments may be attributed to the excess rain in the fall coupled with the warm temperatures.