In the world of commercial agriculture, it is often difficult for companies to get positive attention. When less than 1 percent of the population is feeding and clothing the rest of the world, agriculturists’ voices often get drowned out in a sea of opinions. Rumors and feelings overrule facts and science, leaving many producers in difficult political positions. However, when an agricultural company undertakes the massive project of building a safe, sustainable commercial operation, it is hard to ignore.
The Monsanto Corporation currently has three cottonseed processing facilities located in Eloy, Arizona, Hollandale, Mississippi, and Aiken, Texas. Although these locations have done an exceptional job of modernizing and adapting to new technology, they have reached their limits. With buildings that date back to the 1920s, the internal infrastructures can no longer handle updates. Instead of building three new facilities, Monsanto decided to invest their money in one state-of-the-art “mega-site” in Lubbock, Texas.
Site lead, Kelly Tucker, said how the Hub City was a perfect center for their cotton operation. A central location, immediate access to physical and human resources, and accommodating citizens were only some of the factors that made Lubbock the perfect choice for the new cottonseed facility. Tucker said many locations were considered, but nothing compared to being in the middle of cotton-country.
“Most of your cotton acres are produced within a 100-mile radius of Lubbock,” Tucker said. “We really wanted to be a part of that.”
Tucker said the new location will also be beneficial because it is close to major universities, including Texas Tech. He explained this facility will be highly technological and needs educated employees who are comfortable with modern machinery and can learn new skills quickly. The new site will have 40 full-time employees and up to 75 seasonal workers.
“Looking back, if I had the opportunity to work here straight out of college, what an amazing opportunity that would have been,” said Lee Bertelson, environmental safety and health coordinator at the Lubbock location.
Bertelson said he believes this new facility will be a great experience for every employee. Because Monsanto prioritizes worker safety, this unique facility will implement many features to improve employee protection and comfort
“This facility was built with safety in mind in every inch of the process,” Bertelson said.
He said each activity that will take place in the facility has been analyzed and studied to find ways to improve efficiency and safety. All equipment, including forklifts, will be electric in order to be environmentally friendly. This causes issues with traffic, however, because the forklifts are so quiet you cannot hear one coming around the corner.
To solve this problem, Monsanto’s forklift vendor installed a program in each forklift that assists drivers and alerts them to oncoming traffic. The machines are able to sense each other, and even automatically slow down when approaching an intersection.
This facility was built with safety in mind in every inch of the process.
Bertelson said all heavy machinery in the facility uses precautionary alarm systems that will alert anyone who steps too close. Many of the machines will even shut down completely if it detects human presence. Along with safety precautions, Monsanto has also gone to great lengths to ensure this facility is environmentally friendly.
“This place will be zero waste,” Bertelson said, “which I am very proud of.”
He said the company has designed this plant to run as efficiently as possible, wasting no time or resources. In order to cut electricity usage, lights in the facility automatically shut off if no movement is detected for an extended period of time. All of the processes will also be indoors, allowing employees to work year round without being exposed to harsh West Texas weather. This also allows a filtration system to capture all dust and pollutants that are produced.
“The machinery that we use to do the dust collection and air filtering are state-of-the-art,” Bertelson said.
He said two kinds of dust are produced during the cottonseed processing, red dust and white dust. Dust levels are a very serious concern when working with cottonseed because the inhalation of those particles can cause respiratory illnesses. This facility will use a system that not only filters out all pollutants in the air but also recycles everything that is collected.
The red dust is produced when the cottonseed is being treated. These particles are collected and sent to an incinerator where they are burned and converted into energy. The white dust is a product of the delinting process and consists of the small amount of cotton that must be removed from the seed before it can be processed. The lint is then sold to commodity brokers and used in cattle feed.
Monsanto did not cut any corners when building this new facility. All of the trash produced will be sent to an outside vendor, where it will either be converted into power or recycled. Additionally, a state of the art camera system will be installed in every part of the process, allowing technicians to supervise machinery from a safe distance. Tucker said many people are interested in the new and unique technology, so they plan on giving tours of the facility after it opens.
Maintaining a policy of transparency and honesty will assist in educating anyone who visits the Monsanto facility. Showing people the amount of time and effort that went into the construction of this plant will also help agriculturists convey how important consumer and environmental safety is for the industry as a whole. Tucker said through extensive efforts and tours, this facility can be an example of responsible, sustainable commercial agriculture.
“There is no other facility like this,” Tucker said. “It really is one of a kind.”