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- PRODUCTION -

Half Empty Or Half Full?

Mid-South Ginners Committed To Infrastructure
   

By Carroll Smith
Senior Writer


As Charley Knabb, a Mid-South gin manager, stated in February’s “My Turn” column, “The cotton industry has taken a 90-degree turn away from the main highway and is currently speeding pedal-to-the-metal toward Beantown and Cornville.”

And the cotton acreage numbers for 2007 and 2008 reported by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) support Knabb’s observation. In 2006, Mid-South farmers planted 4,235,000 acres of cotton. In 2007, the numbers dropped down to 2,750,000 and in 2008, Mid-South cotton weighed in at 1,960,000 acres.

Despite the switch from cotton to grain across the region, the segment of the cotton industry most affected by the decrease in acres – local cotton gins – is taking a proactive stance to ensure that the infrastructure stays intact.

“We will maintain our infrastructure,” says Mississippi farmer and gin owner Brad Cobb. “The Mississippi Delta was built on cotton, not grain, because cotton can withstand more adverse conditions than grain crops can. Cotton is a resilient crop with a big tap root. It can go through a small hailstorm or drought and have the ability to bounce back, whereas the grains are more vulnerable to those types of conditions.”

This year, Cobb anticipates running about 22,000 bales through Three Way Gin, which is located near Tunica, compared to his normal 53,000 bales.

“My basic gin crew has been with me for more than 20 years, and we won’t cut back there,” he says. “However, instead of bringing in two gin crews from Texas, we’ll just bring in one this year and run 12 hours instead of 24. Although we are making these labor and time adjustments, we will continue to maintain the plant as if we were running at full capacity.”

Cobb emphasizes the importance of not cutting any corners on cleaning equipment and gin stands.
“We’re trying not to spend money unnecessarily, but we’re certainly not scrimping on repairs,” he says. “Most of the cotton that goes through this gin is my family’s, so I have a vested interest in making sure that everything is in top condition.”

Utilizing Total Crop Value

Sam Angel, landowner and owner of Epstein Gin Company in Lake Village, Ark., says he expects the gin will turn out about 15,000 bales this year as compared to 20,000 last year.

“It’s gong to be a lean fall, but I am doing everything I can to maintain the gin, which is a vital part of the cotton infrastructure,” he says. Angel is also part of a group that owns Dumas Cotton Warehouse, where all of the cotton from Epstein Gin is stored.

The Arkansas businessman has always taken the total value of the crop into consideration in keeping the plant profitable and moving forward. For example, he utilizes the gin trash by spreading it on his fields to make the soil more productive the next year and stores the cottonseed, which he later markets directly to dairies.

“As far as maintaining the plant, we do the same things that we would do if we were running at full capacity,” Angel says. “I don’t want it to break down, so I keep Epstein Gin in extra good shape.”

Consolidation Option

Co-op gins owned by groups of farmers also are reporting a decrease in business as a result of the declining cotton acres.

Clark Carter, who farms and manages Associated Producers Gin near Rolling Fork, Miss., says they are down to about 10 percent of what they normally gin.

“We’ve gone from 25,000 acres to 2,500 acres,” he says. “We’re typically a 40,000-bale gin.”

Like Cobb and Angel, Carter is committed to maintaining the infrastructure of the ginning segment despite lower cotton acreage.

“Being a stockholder and a farmer is the force that drives me,” he says. “I want to be as competitive production- wise and efficient as we possibly can. I have a vested interest in this plant. If I am not doing a good job for our customers, then I am not doing a good job for us (stockholders).”

Carter says one option that could be viable during the lean years is plant consolidation. For example, gins in close proximity to one another could share resources.

If the gins agree to form one company and consolidate, then there could be an active board of directors, one secretary and someone with electrical, hydraulic and computer skills to manage the plants as one.

“It would be foolish to close down too many gins,” he says. “When cotton comes back, we need gins to handle the crop that has been so good for us in years past.

“You can store cotton pickers under a shed, but you have to maintain the gins,” Carter notes. “When we spend money to upgrade, we are doing it to get the cotton through the plant the best way possible. We’re not spending it to make ourselves more money. We just want to take care of the crop.”

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.


Gin Expert Provides Pointers For Less Than Optimum Capacity
Or Temporarily Closed Gins


Gins in areas of reduced cotton acres have difficult decisions to make in regard to operating the gin or shutting it down for the season in hopes that acres and their customers will return.

Those gins that plan to open in 2008 with less than optimum capacity will likely be running on limited shifts for abbreviated periods with only essential repair and maintenance programs. Many are looking into operating during non-peak power demands for reduced energy rates.

The bright side is that cottonseed prices have skyrocketed, along with other ginning by-products that may help to offset higher energy costs.

Those gins that decide not to open and have properly cleaned out and shut down their gin after last season don’t have much to worry about. Following are some tips to consider before re-opening the gin:

• It is important to protect components, such as gin saws, cylinder rams and other parts from rust and corrosion.

• Managers should seal building openings to prevent moisture and varmints from getting into equipment. Birds and rodents can make a considerable mess and cause damage to equipment.

• Starting up a dormant gin is a difficult task, and it is always a good idea to have some early cotton to get the machinery tested and conditioned before the season begins in earnest.

• Lubricate bearings and shafts and check hydraulic fluid condition and level before starting equipment.

– Tommy Valco, Cotton Technology Transfer & Education Coordinator, USDA-ARS, Stoneville, Miss.

 


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