The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the establishment of a cooperative agreement between its Agricultural Marketing Service’s Cotton & Tobacco Program (C&T) and Texas Tech University to construct, own and operate a cotton classing facility located on the university’s campus in Lubbock, Texas.
The current facility is one of several across the U.S. that measures and classifies cotton by its specific physical attributes, which enables the cotton to be marketed by producers and gives precise information to consumers regarding the cotton fibers. This allows it to be used in the most optimized way to produce top-quality cotton products.
USDA said it hopes the new agreement will provide a collaborative model to cultivate the long-standing partnership between USDA and Texas Tech and benefit the southern Plains cotton industry, the national cotton industry and the university.
This partnership will foster opportunities for Texas Tech and other universities to learn more about cotton fiber measurement and grading operations by having direct access to the facility in a learning and teaching environment.
According to USDA, the Lubbock cotton classing facility is one of the largest in the U.S. and the world, routinely classifying approximately 20% of the U.S. cotton crop. It tests an average of 3-4 million cotton samples annually. With the new facility, it is estimated that the Lubbock cotton classing site will be able to classify up to 5 million cotton samples per year.
The new state-of-the-art facility, in its more prominent and centralized location, will be a flagship facility for the C&T program.
To formalize the agreement, USDA marketing and regulatory programs undersecretary Greg Ibach participated in a signing ceremony and groundbreaking held July 1, 2019, at the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock. Reps. Mike Conaway (R., Texas) and Jodey Arrington (R., Texas) also participated in the July 1 event.
“This cooperative agreement is the first of its kind for USDA’s Cotton & Tobacco program, and we hope to pursue similar partnerships in other regions of the country where cotton classing is an important part of the local economy,” Ibach explained. “In addition to this partnership with Texas Tech, this facility will promote efficiency and cost-effectiveness through its unique design, operation, energy conservation and positive return on investment to USDA and its stakeholders.”
The agreement provides a model for collaboration between USDA and the university to cultivate a long-standing partnership that will benefit the Lubbock area cotton industry, the university, the surrounding community and the U.S. cotton industry.
Texas Tech is a world leader in cotton research, mostly in seed and fiber development. Led by the Fiber & Biopolymer Research Institute (FBRI) within the department of plant and soil science, the work by researchers at FBRI has led to the development of better cotton through the introduction of new genetic information as well as construction of a custom-built micro-gin that mimics full-sized gins, giving researchers a better understanding of what cotton goes through during the ginning process.
The partnership will provide students and researchers with enhanced education and research opportunities in developing fiber measurement technology, automation and robotics, fiber phenomics, prototyping and calibration and for testing new instruments and technology.
Texas Tech researchers are considered some of the world's leading experts on cotton -- from department chairman Eric Hequet, who has performed extensive research in the areas of cotton breeding and biotechnology that improved cotton fiber properties, to Darren Hudson, a professor in the department of agricultural and applied economics who performs cotton and market-related analysis that is used to help establish cotton prices and protections for farmers.
The addition of the cotton classing facility to the Texas Tech campus will not only enhance the quality of research performed by experts and the level of education received by students but also will provide a more prominent and centralized location for cotton classification operations and allow for more collaborative research opportunities between C&T and Texas Tech. It also will provide more internship and employment opportunities for students.
Texas Tech University president Lawrence Schovanec said, "When Texas Tech was established, its mission emphasized service and engagement with the agricultural industry in west Texas. That commitment continues today, and this agreement represents an opportunity to expand our service to the agricultural industry. The USDA's cotton classing facility will bring together agricultural and research communities in a collaborative partnership to strengthen the cotton industry that is so critical to west Texas and the state."