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Getting ‘Back To Basics’

In sports, it is inevitable that a player (or a team) will go into a slump. In every case, the recipe for getting out of that slump and back into high performance is to break down the training routine to “focus on the fundamentals.” Only then, when that foundation is re-established, can the player or team begin to move toward higher goals. Players must train harder, and teams must evaluate talent and performance, oftentimes making changes to the line-up.
Across many regions of the United States during the 2015/16 ginning season, cotton gins faced a slump – some in bigger ways than others. Weather was the major contributing factor – from the unpredictable planting schedule in West Texas to the unfathomable unending rainfall throughout the harvesting/ginning season in the Southeast. This “stacked deck” of challenges required the ginning industry to look within itself to make the best of a bad situation.

Adjusting The ‘Ginning Game Plan’
In recent years, whether the crop was small or large, the growing and harvesting seasons tended to be uneventful as a whole. As a result, gins were able to process at higher capacities, often bypassing specific machines, which, in turn, increased weekly throughput and reduced repair bills — all with the result of reducing ginning costs. That has been great for the industry, and as long as the conditions justified it, there’s nothing wrong in taking advantage of the circumstances.

Then came 2015…and the circumstances changed…much for the worse. Whether crops came out of the field early, seed cotton was extra trashy or the endless rains sent overly wet cotton to the gins, the “ginning game plan” had to change — drastically. And here is where you had to get “back to basics.” Gins had to come to grips with the limitations they had within their machinery make-up. Drying and precleaning machinery that processed 30-40 bales per hour now struggled to handle 20. Stick machines that had been bypassed for the past decade were suddenly put back into service, and some gins found they had not been repaired (or even touched) during their dormant period. Hairy and semi-hairy leaf cotton varieties just didn’t “clean up” like they have in years past. On top of all that, smaller seed with brittle seed coats was making it more difficult to prevent seed from getting through the gin stands and to reduce seed coat neps in the ginned lint.

Labor Issues Are Challenging
Although addressing equipment issues is essential, the more fundamental factor is not a machinery issue — it is a personnel issue. Labor continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing our industry. It’s not just about finding labor; it is about finding capable and knowledgeable labor.

The experienced ginning workforce continues to shrink. Despite advances in technology and automation, cotton gins today must have personnel who understand the ginning processes and technology. Regardless of the weather, seed cotton conditions, or anything else, workers who can get the best performance out of the equipment will maximize the value of the final product for their customer, which leads to a successful operation.

The good news is that there are solutions to the challenges we face, and the first step in getting “back to basics” is education. The National Cotton Ginners’ Association annual ginners’ schools are excellent places to start. Researchers from the three U.S. gin labs, along with staff members from select land-grant universities and gin machinery manufacturers, offer three levels of instruction that can lead to Ginner Certification, along with continuing education classes on new topics each year.

The classes are held at the U.S. Cotton Ginning Labs in Texas (Lubbock), New Mexico (Mesilla Park) and Mississippi (Stoneville). Dates for the 2016 schools are: Lubbock (April 4-6), Mesilla Park (May 3-5), and Stoneville (May 31-June 2). More information is available online at: http://www.cotton.org/ncga/ginschool/index.cfm.

Ross Rutherford, product general manager, Lummus Corp. in Lubbock, Texas, contributed this article.
Contact Rutherford at 806-745-1191 or via email at ross.rutherford@lummus.com.