California, Arizona sticky cotton disrupts Peruvian mills

California, Arizona sticky cotton disrupts Peruvian mills

Some cotton spinning mills in Peru ground to a halt last year when imported sticky Pima cotton from California and Arizona gummed up the machines, according to Gerardo Gery, owner of the Algosemi cotton merchant company in Lima, Peru.  Gery says the problem occurred when 2013 California and Arizona-grown Pima cotton was blended with Peruvian-grown cotton to increase overall fiber strength. 

Some cotton spinning mills in Peru ground to a halt last year when imported sticky Pima cotton from California and Arizona gummed up the machines.

The Peruvians blended Peruvian-grown cotton with 2013-grown California and Arizona Pima cotton to increase overall fiber strength when the mill problem occurred. Stickiness was earlier but to a lesser degree in imported California Upland cotton.

This is according to Gerardo Gery, owner of the Algosemi cotton merchant company in Lima which imports cotton into Peru. Gery imported the cotton unaware of the stickiness.

“It is extremely difficult to work with sticky cotton (in the milling process),” Gery explained.

The mill issue was explained by Gery to California State University (Fresno State) Plant Science Professor Bruce Roberts last fall during a sabbatical in Peru.

Gery says the mills must buy and use more clean cotton to blend with sticky cotton in order to use the sticky cotton at all.

The mills struggled with numerous work stoppages due to the sticky cotton.

“They have to stop the process many times to clean the combs, rollers, and machine parts,” Gery explained. 

Sticky cotton is caused by lint contamination from secretions by aphids and whiteflies on cotton in the field, commonly called honeydew.

Some mills believe Gery knowingly imported the sticky cotton. This mistrust placed him in a tenuous situation to convince mill owners that he had no foreknowledge of the situation.

Some mills have since switched to a different cotton merchant.

Gery said, “It will cost me a lot of money to try to find an amicable agreement to rebuild the trust.”

In the future, Gery plans to be more proactive to avoid getting burned by the stickiness issue again, he says.

“In my 15 years as an agent, this is my first time experience with this problem,” the merchant said. “I heard about it in the past when some spinning mills had problems with Arizona cotton and for this reason they stopped buying from that area (at that time).”

As mills discovered the problem last year, the mills wanted to return the cotton but it proved impossible. Now, mills and agents are trying to reach an agreement to cover their losses.

As California and Arizona Pima growers prepare to grow their 2015 cotton crop, Gery believes stricter control should be enacted to protect the fiber from becoming sticky and sold sticky.

“Growers must be held accountable and take steps to control this issue,” Gery stated. “If there’s another year with the same problem, their good reputation will be ruined and the mills will not buy cotton from this area and will find other cotton sources.”

Cotton organizations including Supima based in Phoenix, Ariz. and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association (CCGGA) located in Fresno, Calif. proactively caution growers to address aphid and whitefly control at the first signs of the insects.

“There was a lot of stickiness in the valley last year which can cause tremendous problems at gins and mills,” said Jesse Curlee, Supima’s president and chief executive officer.

“If it was a really big problem, we would have heard from our largest users in Peru, but we didn’t hear anything from them,” Curlee said. “However that doesn’t mean there were not problems and we certainly understand that stickiness can damage the productivity of a mill.”

Curlee added, “We’re not going to deny it’s not there, but we try to do everything we can to prevent it. We caution growers when they find the first sign of whiteflies to jump on it to prevent stickiness.”

Some growers may ignore the problem, he says, which in the end can impact the industry.

Curlee adds that some merchants take samples from test bales for stickiness to make sure the cotton is clean before sending it to mills.

CCGGA President Roger Isom chimed in on the Peru situation.

“We didn’t hear anything out of Peru but we heard about some unconfirmed (stickiness) issues in China,” the California cotton leader said.  

The CCGA understands that sticky cotton is a continuous battle and addresses it early in the year with growers.

“We conduct outreach through regional meetings to discuss the importance of keeping stickiness from getting into the marketplace,” he said.

Isom and Curlee stress the importance of catching the problem in the field early since it is easier to control early than later.

Isom said, “All it takes is one or two growers with sticky cotton and suddenly everyone gets lumped together and it becomes a regional issue.”

To prevent sticky cotton, Fresno State's Bruce Roberts urges growers to monitor fields for aphids and whiteflies throughout the season, and take immediate action if found. He says boll opening is a critical time to step up insect monitoring to prevent residue from contaminating the fiber.

“Following a year of sticky cotton problems, growers cannot risk the chance of having it occur again,” Roberts said.

While stickiness can be viewed more as a boll opening issue, it is a season-long issue, he concluded.

(Editor's note: Bruce Roberts and writer Amy Roberts are married and traveled to Peru together.) 

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