How drought affects quality of cotton

14 Apr, 2024 - 00:04 0 Views
How drought affects quality of cotton COTTON

The Sunday Mail

Word From The Market with Tapiwa Nyasha Mutonda

THE El Niño-induced drought that hit Zimbabwe has severely impacted the agriculture sector.

Even though cotton is regarded as a drought-tolerant crop, the value chain has not been spared.

Low-lying regions, which are major cotton-producing areas, have been particularly affected by the adverse weather conditions.

The drought has resulted in a substantial reduction in yield. The quality of the cotton has also been adversely affected.

The inadequate rainfall and high temperatures have seen the crop withering and failing to reach maturity.

Such weather conditions resulted in forced boll splitting.

As a result, farmers are experiencing one of the worst harvests in years.

The situation will not only impact the livelihoods of farmers but also pose economic challenges for the country and various sectors dependent on cotton production.

President Mnangagwa has since declared a state of disaster following the drought.

Over the years, cotton produced in Zimbabwe has enjoyed a reputation of being among the best. It was the least contaminated across the globe.

Since the inception of major production of the crop, Zimbabwe has always had a grading system, whereby seed cotton at the point of purchase would be put into four basic grades (A, B, C and D).

Contamination was a major criterion during the buying process.

Quality of seed cotton in drought season

Due to climate change, the quality of seed cotton has over the years been on the downside. Poor rainfall patterns lead to discolouration of fibres.

A prolonged dry spell leads to quick drying of leaves, which can add trash in the seed cotton. Forced boll split leads to weak or immature fibres.

Insect stains appear due to inadequate application of chemicals.

In the 2022 marketing season, only 2 percent of seed cotton was in grade A, followed by 4 percent in grade B. The bulk of the seed cotton was in lower grades.

These less impressive grades call for more concerted efforts by stakeholders to ensure that Zimbabwe’s seed cotton regains its mojo. Pre-grading at the homestead level is more crucial this year so that farmers can salvage the best out of their crops.

For the crop to be of good grade, it should have minimum contamination.

Corrective action

In trying to correct this downward trend in cotton quality, the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) has, in recent years, started resuscitating proper cotton grading. It has also begun pushing for grade price differential payments.

In 2013, it began establishing national cotton standards. This was done through the standard cotton grading boxes refurbishment exercise. Cotton grades are carefully displayed in sets of boxes, showing the maximum acceptable downgrading factors in each one.

Furthermore, in line with Statutory Instrument (SI) 142 of 2009, as amended by 63 of 2011 and 118 of 2022, cotton contractors are required to pay grade differential prices.

Apart from payment by grades, AMA will ensure that grades are displayed at every buying point. This is meant to provide feedback to farmers, so that they are aware of the grades awarded to them.

Cotton quality factors

The quality of cotton fibre in a pack depends on many factors, including variety, weather conditions, cultural practices, harvesting and storage practices, moisture and trash content, ginning processes, post-packing storage and general handling practices. Some quality characteristics are highly influenced by genetics, while others are determined by environmental conditions, cultural practices, or harvesting and ginning practices.

Other common downgrading factors include colour background, insect stain, soil stain, weak immature fibres and leaf trash.

Seed cotton can be rejected for various reasons during grading.

It is rejected when contaminants are identified during grading and these are: polypropylene, oil, grease or fuel contamination, moisture content of above 12,5 percent, burnt or scorched cotton and sticks or stones inside a seed cotton pack.

Fibre quality is highest the day a mature cotton ball opens.

Weathering, mechanical harvesting, handling and ginning can diminish the natural quality of cotton. As for our Zimbabwean cotton, it is hand-picked, hence the natural quality should be harnessed from the field and maintained.

What is cotton grading?

It is the visual interpretation of seed cotton to identify similarities in quality through comparison with physical and descriptive standards depicted in national cotton standard grading boxes, in line with SI 142 of 2009.

Manual grading is based on appearance and feel, and is accomplished mainly through the human senses of sight and touch.

Meanwhile, preparations for the 2024 cotton marketing season are gathering pace. AMA is engaging stakeholders to finalise marketing modalities for the upcoming season.

It is hoped growers will carry out pre-grading at the farm level. Farming is a business, so quality matters. Pre-grading helps in identifying any potential issues or deviations early on, allowing farmers to take corrective action if needed.

It can assist in grading cotton based on quality parameters, which can be beneficial in ensuring that the product that goes to the buying point is of high quality, so that it fetches good prices.

Tapiwa Nyasha Mutonda is AMA agricultural quality inspector. Word From The Market is a column produced by AMA to promote market-driven production. Feedback: [email protected] or WhatsApp/Call +263781706212.


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