Cotton Quality Assurance and Futures Certification

The Cotton & Tobacco Program provides reliable quality data to U.S. cotton producers, facilitating the marketing of cotton to U.S. merchants and textile mills. Given the program’s stellar worldwide reputation for accuracy, making USDA quality data available to foreign textile mills adds value to U.S. cotton in a highly competitive global market. 

To accomplish this mission, Quality Assurance staff performs two key functions:

  • QA assists the Grading Division in ensuring accuracy of all fiber measurements applied to U.S. cotton, and
  • QA verifies that all cotton submitted to commodity exchanges, such as the InterContinental Exchange (ICE), meet futures contract specifications.

The Quality Assurance Division is an ICA Bremen Certified Laboratory.  ICA Bremen is the 'International Centre of Excellence' for Cotton Testing, Research, Quality Training and Certification.  This prestigious certification signifies that the QA laboratory meets an international standard level of quality assurance.

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Quality Management Program and Technical Supervision 

C&T Quality Assurance oversees the Quality Management Program (QMP) to carefully monitor instrument and classer performance.  QMP calls for regular tests of known-value verification cottons and materials on classing instruments and periodic supervisory checks on throughout the course of each shift (process verification).  Data analytics are used in real-time to calculate trends and indicate any potential problems with cotton testing so C&T can strive to prevent any problems before they occur.

QMP also calls for QA staff to provide technical supervision of both manual and instrument classing processes performed by the Grading Division’s ten classing offices through:

  • Manual classing of supervisory checklot samples (e.g. samples chosen at random for QA inspection) and providing daily, weekly, and seasonal reports to the appropriate classing office.
  • Conducting on-site technical visits to the classing offices to provide training in the calibration, operation, and maintenance of the instruments used in the classing of cotton samples and to provide quality management oversight as needed.
  • Ensuring that classing office personnel are following established practices for C&T’s Quality Management Program.
  • Recordkeeping and management of all manual classing office checklot reports and special checklots sent in for additional quality purposes.
  • Providing classing support services such as:
    • Formulates policies and programs relating to both manual and instrument classing.
    • Designs and conducts studies, analyzes data, and interprets results to recommend improvements in quality management.
    • Responsible for the preparation and certification of USDA cotton classification examinations and monitors classer training programs.
    • Manages and conducts cotton supervisory training for C&T’s fulltime and seasonal supervisors.

Futures Verification Services

Commodity exchanges are a public marketplace where operative (buying and selling of physical commodities) and speculative (buying and selling of contracts only) trading of commodities allows for free-market price discovery and price risk mitigation.

C&T Quality Assurance verifies that the quality of cotton submitted to commodity exchanges, such as the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), meet quality specifications of futures contracts. Without the confidence that physical cotton bales that underpin futures contracts meet these contract specifications, there would be no confidence in cotton futures contracts and operative trading would cease. Speculative trading, as we know it, would also likely cease thereafter.

Submitting Cotton for Inspection and Certification:

When tendering cotton on a futures contract the InterContinental Exchange (ICE), owners must submit “Request for Cotton #2 Classing” form through eCOPS – ICE’s Electronic Commodity Operations Processing System.  Approved request forms are forwarded to C&T’s Quality Assurance Division.  For more information on this process, contact:

ICE Futures U.S., Inc.
Commodity Operations
55 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10055
Phone: (212) 748-4110

Other Services

Quality Assurance classes cotton that is sampled by individuals other than AMS-licensed agents.  Cotton may domestic (Form-D Classification) or foreign (Foreign Growth - Form F Classification).  In addition, the QA Division facilities that reissuance of classification certificates (Form A Rewrites).

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Contact Info

USDA, AMS, Cotton & Tobacco Program
Quality Assurance Division
Kevin Letbetter. Director
3275 Appling Rd, Room 9
Memphis, TN 38133, U.S.A.
Phone: +1-901-384-3020
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