USDA Classing Offices hit the busy season - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

11/23/09

USDA Classing Offices hit the busy season

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By Ben Lawson  - bio | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Area farmers are busy getting cotton out of the field, but before they can sell it, they've got to find out what their crop is worth. That's what we're learning more about this morning.

Lubbock is home to the largest office where price is determined. The process starts at a gin, where a sample is taken from each side of a bale. That sample goes to the USDA Classing Office, where crews test it to find out the quality, which determines it's worth.

"The quality that's determined at the USDA Classing Office is what determines the price all the way around the world," Roger Haldenby with Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. said.  The journey starts when samples arrive from 90-area gins.  Each sample has a bar-code stuck in the middle. That code links the sample to the bale, and it's history remains with the bale to its final destination.

First, every sample runs through a conveyor. That ensures each one is examined under the same temperature and humidity. Then, it moves to the inspectors.

They're fast, really fast. In fact, Lubbock had the fastest and most accurate of any inspector in the nation last year. 

Inspectors pull each bar code, scan it, and test results are recorded. The rigorous examination includes, testing fiber length, strength, uniformity, leaf content, and maturity.  Quick hands que each process with a piece of the sample.

"All of those parameters become associated with the value of that cotton," Haldenby said.  Then, a manual inspection determines color grade. Again, the bar code is scanned, so everything is recorded.

The nation has 11 USDA Classing Offices. Four are located in Texas, and three of them are right here in west Texas, in Lubbock, Lamesa, and Abilene. "It's very important for the process for producers, for merchants, and for textile mills," Haldenby said. 

All of the samples don't go to waste though, in fact they're used to help off-set the cost to farmers for the classing process.  Crews collect the left-over pieces and bale them and sell them for things like mattress stuffing or for use in money.

"So, you could have some of this class cotton in your mattress or maybe keep some under your mattress," Haldenby said.  Inspectors start training in late summer, and they'll continue working through February or March, until all bales on the South Plains are classed.

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