Statement Regarding Seed Coat Fragments in Cotton Produced in the Southeast

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2021 – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to collaborate with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to raise awareness and further examine the significant increase in seed coat fragments in cotton produced in the southeast region. Thus far in the 2020 cotton season, the AMS Macon, GA Classing Office has classed 2.2 million samples, of which approximately 895,000 contained seed coat fragments. In addition to seed coat fragments, a portion of samples also contained whole cotton seed.

“This significant increase in seed coat fragments has caused obvious concern around the region and questions about the possible cause as well as the cotton classing process,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black. “We are working closely with USDA and industry experts to identify the cause of the issue and potential solutions.

“Following Secretary Perdue’s engagement with Commissioner Black, we would like to invite producers and stakeholders to visit our office and see classing firsthand to better understand the issue,” said USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach. “All ten of the AMS Cotton Program classing offices operate by the same standards, processes and quality control procedures, and we look forward to sharing more information about how we ensure accuracy and consistency in the classing process.”

A highly trained team classes every cotton sample received at an AMS Cotton Classing Office. After being tested on an electronic “high volume instrument” (HVI) for a variety of fiber properties, samples are manually inspected for the presence of extraneous matter. If a classer determines that an appreciable amount of extraneous matter exists throughout the sample, a code is entered into the computer system that identifies the specific type of matter. A portion of all samples graded each day are randomly selected for re-check in the office and another portion of these samples are shipped to the AMS Cotton Program’s Quality Assurance Division in Memphis for another re-check.

A typical cotton sample with seed coat fragments identified in blue circles. Credit: AMS Cotton & Tobacco Program.

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

“I have complete confidence in the integrity of the cotton classing process, and I appreciate USDA’s willingness to provide additional information to producers,” added Commissioner Black.

The Macon Classing Office looks forward to welcoming stakeholders or producers who would like to observe the cotton classing process. Please contact Noah Bell, Area Director, at (478) 474-2831 to set up an appointment. The office is located at 1100 Parkway Drive, Macon GA 31220. Strict adherence to COVID-19 protocol is required for each visitor.

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