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  • United States Department of Agriculture


    Technical BulletinNumber 1915

    June 2007

    Sticky Cotton: Causes, Effects, and Prevention

  • United States Department of Agriculture


    Technical BulletinNumber 1915

    June 2007

    Sticky Cotton: Causes, Effects, and Prevention

    Hequet is Associate Director, International Textile Center, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX. Henneberry was Laboratory Director and Research Leader, Western Cotton Research Laboratory, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Phoenix, AZ; he is currently Director, U.S. Arid Land Research Center, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Maricopa, AZ. Nichols is Director, Agricultural Research, Cotton Incorporated, Cary, NC.

    E. Hequet, T.J. Henneberry, and R.L. Nichols

  • Abstract

    Hequet, E., T.J. Henneberry, and R.L. Nichols, eds. 2007. Sticky Cotton: Causes, Effects, and Prevention. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Technical Bulletin 1915.

    Adherence of contaminants and lint to cotton processing equipment is called stickiness, and the contaminated lint is sticky cotton. Sticky cotton is a worldwide problem, increasing as cotton processing machinery is refined because high-speed, large-volume processing of lint requires cleaner cotton. Honeydew, the sugar-containing excretions of certain insects, mainly whiteflies and aphids, are the most frequent cause of sticky cotton. These papers discuss the effects of sticky cotton on the industry, identify sources of contaminants, and describe the major insect pests and their biology, population development, and interactions with the cotton plant. Preventing plant stress and reducing insect population development are important control tactics. Other approaches include planting smooth-leaf varieties, limiting cotton production to a single fruiting cycle, timely harvesting, and timely destruction of all crops that are hosts for honeydew-producing insects. Selective insecticides can supress honeydew-producing insects, but insecticide resistance is a continuing threat.

    Keywords: Aphis gossypii, bandedwinged whitefly, Bemisia tabaci, boll development, cotton, cotton aphid, cotton boll, cotton history, cotton lint, cotton quality, fiber processing, ginning, H2SD, honeydew, insecticide resistance, minicard, physiological sugars, research, sampling, sticky cotton, sweetpotato whitefly, thermodetector, Trialeurodes.

    ARS Mission

    The Agricultural Research Service conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provides information access and dissemination to:

    ensure high-quality, safe food and other agricultural products,

    assess the nutritional needs of Americans, sustain a competitive agricultural economy, enhance the natural resource base and the

    environment, and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.

    Mention of trade names, commercial products, or companies in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over others not recommended.

    This publication reports research involving pesticides. It does not contain recommendations for their use nor does it imply that uses discussed here have been registered. All uses of pesticides must be registered by appropriate State or Federal agencies or both before they can be recommended.

    While supplies last, single copies of this publication can be obtained at no cost from Arid Land Agricultural Research Center, USDA-ARS, 21881 North Cardon Lane, Maricopa, AZ 85239, or by e-mail at

    Copies of this publication may be purchased in various formats (microfiche, photocopy, CD, print on demand) from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161, (800) 553-6847,

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or part of an individuals income is derived from any public assistance program. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDAs TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD). To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410, or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720-6382 (TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

    June 2007

  • iii


    E.F. Hequet, T.J. Henneberry, and R.L. Nichols

    Cotton (Gossypium spp.) lint stickiness is the number one worldwide cotton quality problem. It was recorded as early as 1942 (Husain and Trehan 1942) and accorded recognition as one of the most serious quality problems in the cotton industry beginning in the early 1970s, when Perkins (1971) and Khalifa and Gameel (1982) suggested that stickiness was a limiting factor in cotton production in some cotton-growing countries. The problem received additional attention when the International Textile Manufacturers Federation established a special Honeydew Working Group charged with the objectives of finding appropriate tests to identify plant and insect sugars in cotton lint, evaluate test reliability in determining lint stickiness, and finally to collect and assess available information on cotton stickiness. The excellent review of Hector and Hodkinson (1989) served as a base of information on the subject. These authors also identified a number of large gaps in the available information base and particularly identified the lack of field experimentation to determine the causes and main factors affecting the extent of management of the stickiness problem.

    In most cases, cotton lint stickiness is associated with lint contamination from insect honeydew produced by whiteflies and aphids. Populations of sweetpotato whiteflies, Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius) Biotype B (= Bemisia argentifolii Bellows and Perring), increased to epidemic proportions in cotton in California, Arizona, and Texas beginning in 1986. The cotton stickiness problem became apparent in Arizona in 1991 with associated discounts of up to about 20 cents per pound (454 grams) on cotton lint. Stickiness problems caused by cotton aphids, Aphis gossypii Glover, also have occurred recently in West Texas, notably in 1995. Aphids are a chronic management problem in the Mid South, Texas, and California and have been associated with reports of stickiness in cotton lint originating in the arid regions of Texas and the San Joaquin Valley of California.

    Sweetpotato whitefly and cotton aphid control costs and decreased gin efficiency are absorbed at the field level. Although difficult to estimate, lint price reductions are imposed on certain areas because they have been sources of sticky cotton. Thus the problem of stickiness tends to affect lint prices over a whole production

    area, even when only certain producers within the area are the source of the contamination. Economic losses caused by sticky cotton are also incurred at the mill because of increased running time to produce the same quantity of yarn, increased maintenance of processing machinery, and, in severe instances, mill downtime because certain lots of cotton could not be run at all. Refusal of spinning mills to process sticky cotton has inflicted price differentials of more than 10 percent in certain areas.

    Thus the problem affects both the producing and manufacturing segments of the industry, and frequently compromises the reputation of cotton merchants. Much of the cotton produced in the Western United States is exported, and loss of export markets is a serious threat to the U.S. economy.

    Concern for domestic economic losses and potential loss of foreign export trade has stimulated research resulting in identification of the major sugars found in honeydews. The development of technologies to assess cotton lint stickiness, the determination of relationships between sweetpotato whitefly population density and cotton stickiness, and research on the biology and management of sweetpotato whiteflies and cotton aphids is still ongoing. During the last 10 to 15 years, intensive effort has been expended by the scientific community and the cotton industry to address some of the issues associated with the cotton stickiness problem. Many organizations have contributed to our current knowledge.

    Most of the work has been accomplished by USDA-ARS, University of California, University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, the International Textile Center at Texas Tech University, and certain industry cooperators. Much of this research has been achieved in cooperation with Cotton Incorporated and the Sticky Cotton Action Team, an ad-hoc industry working group sponsored by Cotton Incorporated. Invaluable assistance was also obtained from co-operative efforts and information exchange with Centre de Coopration Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Dveloppement (CIRAD), the French governments sponsored institute for agronomic research, and with Israeli entomologists through the Binational Agricultural Research and Development agreement and Pakistani entomologists through U.S. Agency for International Development programs.

  • iv

    Although considerable progress has been made, much more needs to be done. In this