Millions of dollars are spent each year attempting to avoid contamination of cotton during harvest due to plastic litter in the field. We want to help.
Craig Ganssle (CEO and Founder), Brian Wiersma (COO), and Todd Brawn (CTO) headed to Tifton, Georgia to learn more about cotton harvest. As of 2021, Georgia harvested 1.2 million acres of cotton, coming in second to the 5.6 million acres harvested in Texas (USDA NASS). The US has long had a reputation for having clean, high quality cotton, but recently contamination has become an issue. Without mitigation, this may cause US cotton growers to lose their ability to sell at a premium price in the international market.
Cotton Picking Process
A cotton plant ready for harvest
Cotton harvesters pull the cotton boll (the fluffy part) from the cotton burr (the hard, brown shell) and blow the cotton fibers into a compartment in the machine. The cotton is then either compacted into a bale on the machine, or transferred to a buggy that takes it to be compacted and prepared for transport.
Cotton harvester picking cotton
Closeup of where cotton enters the cotton harvesting machine
The cotton is brought to the gin where it is dried down using several cycles of heat. Drying the cotton makes separating it into different parts easier. The trash, such as leaves, burrs, and stems, is removed from the cotton and discarded. The cotton is then put through a series of saws and brushes to separate the cotton seed from the cotton fibers.
Cotton seed is stored elsewhere and ultimately used for livestock feed or oil production. The longer, higher value fibers are also separated from lower quality fibers that contain more “trash”. The cotton fibers then continue through further cleaning processes before being pressed into bales for shipping. At this time, a sample is also taken for the cotton to be graded. Just like other crops, the grade of cotton determines its end use as well as the price the grower will receive when it is purchased by a mill.
Grading & Contamination
Several factors play into the grade given to a bale of cotton. The USDA classification considers fiber length, length uniformity, fiber strength, micronaire (fineness + maturity), color, trash (leaf + bark), leaf, and extraneous matter (leaf, bark, seedcoat, dust, oil, plastic).
How Farmwave Can Help
Our focus as requested by cotton growers is to help mitigate extraneous matter in the field. Things like plastic shopping bags, bale wrap, and other wind-blown pollutants often end up in cotton fields and can be difficult to see from the harvester. Our artificial intelligence software can essentially be trained to look for anything, so why not this?
Four cameras were mounted on a cotton harvester at University of Georgia - Tifton under the supervision of
Brian Wiersma and Dr. Virk discussing cotton harvest in the field
Farmwave camera mounted on the front of a cotton harvester
Assistant Professor and Extension Precision Ag Specialist Dr. Simer Virk. Data collection is the first of many steps to “teach” AI to do a task normally performed by humans, but to do it better. These cameras will collect images that our developers will use to train a model in the future. While we aren’t up and running in cotton yet, we do have systems that can detect harvest loss in corn and soybeans! We are also still beta testing models for small grains and canola that we hope to have field-ready for the 2023 season.
Farmbook in the cab showing the user what the cameras can see. While this is only for data collection and does not yet give us any information about possible contaminants, it can helps us better understand what the cameras can see and how we can optimize their placement for data collection and for future use.
In other news…
Harvest 2022 has been a valuable learning experience for the Farmwave team. We’ve had excellent feedback from our growers - both positive remarks and constructive criticisms - that helps us produce better iterations of current and future products. Some growers took to Twitter to cover their experience saving money with Farmwave, and others are more old fashioned and gave us a phone call. On a courtesy call with one farmer, we learned that he felt the system had already paid for itself just in soybeans! Other growers had some feedback about how we could improve the system in the future which immediately went to our development team who made some mid-season changes. For more about what’s going on with Farmwave, check out this update from the field from Craig.
Cotton Acres Harvested by State. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (2021). NASS - Quick Stats. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
We wish everyone a safe harvest. Be sure to follow us on social media for reports from the field.