Overprocessed cotton at the gin costs farmers a lot of money.

More than half the nation's cotton needs less than one complete stage of lint cleaning. Until now it got one or two stages of lint cleaning in a series, anyway, reducing turnout as much as 30 lbs/bale.

But a new lint cleaning technology developed at the USDA-ARS Cotton Ginning Research Unit in Stoneville, MS, could change that - and fast.

Standard saw-type lint cleaners have five to eight grid bars. This patented modified lint cleaner controls the number of grid bars - or cleaning points - so that ginners can decide to use as few as one if the cotton is clean. If it's dirty, all eight could be used.

Existing lint cleaners could be modified with the new technology. Continental Eagle is testing it.

The equipment worked well in two years of tests at Servico Gin, Courtland, AL. Farmers gained about $15/bale in 1998 USDA tests at Servico. Preliminary results from '99 tests show equal or greater savings.

"It gives us the ability to bypass all but one of the five grid bars on our lint cleaners," says Bobby Greene, Servico president.

The modified lint cleaner could also be used with the new process-control ginning, the IntelliGin, also developed at USDA's Stoneville gin lab and now marketed by Zellweger Uster.

"It will work without process control, but it's a flat piece of cake if you've got IntelliGin," says Stanley Anthony, USDA ag engineer and director of the Stoneville gin lab. "Then a computer makes the decision. Right now we've got people using one, two and three stages of lint cleaning based upon experience and history. But now we can make the same type of decision based on whether to use part of a lint cleaner or all of one."

Count that as one more step toward revolutionizing ginning.

"By knowing the quality coming out of the gin stand, the ginner will know whether to use one grid bar of the lint cleaner or eight in order to optimize income for the farmer," says Anthony. "And if you've got the camera technology, the IntelliGin, you can put it in automatic."

The 1998 tests impressed Anthony. "Those farmers at Courtland made money with it. They ginned with two grid bars on one lint cleaner. This new lint cleaner also gets the grades needed by the farmer and reduces fiber damage. Textile mills are also excited about their findings."

Incorporating modified lint cleaners should improve the IntelliGin system as well as standard gins. "Even in process-control ginning using the IntelliGin, where we control drying and use one lint cleaner, many times the cotton gets too clean to meet market grades. So we're still overprocessing it. We're kicking out material that's good fiber," Anthony says.

"Now with the combination of the modified lint cleaner and the IntelliGin, we have the technology to produce much higher-quality fiber at greater profits for the farmer," he says.

He thinks the system will be available for the 2000 season.