Grading services are an integral part of the U.S. cotton supply chain. Cotton classing is not mandatory, rather grading is performed at the request of producers or their designees who pay a “user- fee” for the service. Growers find third-party unbiased grading services provided by C&T essential to the fair and equitable marketing of their crop.
The Cotton & Tobacco Program Grading Division grades (classes) every bale of cotton produced in the United States. Bale-specific classification data has proven essential to market cotton and it is required to participate in the USDA price support program. Once tested, classification data is issued to the owners or owner’s agent to be utilized in the marketing of U.S. cotton worldwide. This data is also the basis for manufacturers to source and utilize cotton for specific end products based on the quality measurements. In a typical growing season, our Grading services facilitate the domestic and international marketing of raw cotton valued at approximately $7-$8 billion with billions more residual value created throughout the supply chain.
The Grading Division provides services at 10 regional cotton classing offices located in seven states that serve the cotton-producing region of the U.S.
In its grading operation, AMS C&T tests a sample from every bale produced using cotton classification electronic instrumentation. These precise instruments measure several fiber properties utilized for marketing and manufacturing including:
- Color reflectance (Rd) and color yellowness (+b). Rd and +b are translated into a Color Grade and Quadrant.
- Trash (percent area of non-lint material) and Particle Count (number of particles). Trash and Particle Count are translated into Leaf Grade.
- Micronaire (combination of fiber fineness and maturity).
- Fiber Length (upper half mean - measured in 100’s of an inch). Length is translated into Staple (32nd of an inch).
- Fiber Length Uniformity (the uniformity index of parallel fiber lengths in a sub-sample).
- Fiber Strength (force required to break a bundle of fibers measured in grams per tex).
In addition to the instrument measurements, C&T trains and certifies cotton classers determine the presence of any extraneous matter such as bark, grass, seed coat fragments, plastic, etc. This is a visual inspection performed on every sample of cotton in addition to the instrument tests.
ACCURACY AND CONSISTENCY
To ensure accuracy and consistency for all quality measurements throughout all ten of its classing offices, C&T maintains strict atmospheric conditions in the laboratories (70 degrees F +/- 1 degree and 65% relative humidity +/ 2%) along with standardized testing procedures and uniform system processes.
The C&T Program also utilizes a Quality Management Program (QMP) that regularly tests known-value verification cottons and materials along with performing periodic supervisory checks throughout the course of each shift to carefully monitor instrument and classer performance. Data analytics are used to calculate trends and indicate any potential problems with cotton testing so C&T can strive to prevent any problems before they occur.
Classification data is disseminated electronically to producers or their agents by Grading Division classing offices. Access is available to subsequent authorized users from the National Cotton Database, which stores all USDA cotton classification data for the current crop and the previous four crops.
USDA AMS Cotton and Tobacco Program
Robert Seals, Director
3275 Appling Rd, Room 2
Memphis, TN 38133, U.S.A.