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Local farmers grappling with plastic in their cotton

Local farmers grappling with plastic in their cotton
Posted at 10:24 PM, Aug 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-09 23:40:30-04

Over the last few years, South Texas cotton farmers have been dealing with government shutdowns, hurricanes, and trade wars.

It seems like every year, if it's not one thing, it's another for South Texas cotton farmers. Either they are dealing with low cotton prices or the quality of cotton. Now they are dealing with plastic in the cotton.

“We really didn't know this was an issue," Edcot Co-op Gin Manager Daniel Luehrs said. "We have always had plastic in cotton from debris in the fields, garbage bags, trash bags falling from the back of someone's truck, but it has never been at the level it is today.

"We have twice to three times the amount of plastic in our cotton, and it is being noticed when it reaches the mill."

The use of machines that wrap cotton in plastic after it's picked has escalated the problem to the point where it is devaluing the product.

“Other times, it is in the way it is handled whenever it is picked up from the field, and or, as it goes to the gin and through the gin. Those little pieces of plastic become embedded in the lint, and that affects it as it goes into the market,” said San Patricio cotton farmer Bobby Nedbalek.

They still have to avoid cotton contamination. That's something that Luehrs knows quite a bit about.

“There are different handling techniques that can be used to handle it better," Luehrs said. "There are different things that can be done in the field, different prep work, putting in a different type of chain on the truck that hauls it in.

"Things like that will change how we handle it and reduce the risk of broken modules or torn pieces of plastic getting into the cotton, and making it into the gin."

The price of cotton is 60 cents a pound, which is 20 percent lower than its break even point.

“The only way we are surviving in the cotton business now, is that we are out-yielding the market," Nedbalek said. "We are making really good pounds per acre and with the extra pounds, we are able to generate enough income from the pounds to offset the low prices."

The story of this cotton season is not told yet.

We will see how Mother Nature will treat cotton farmers over the next few weeks during harvesting time.