EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, written by Tommy Valco, cotton technology transfer coordinator at USDA-ARS in Stoneville, Miss., is the first in a three-part series examining how ginners need to prepare for the upcoming season. In this first installment, Valco discusses what ginners need to do before the modules arrive on the yard.
From snakes in the control box to bird nests in the exhaust pipes, starting up a gin after the dormant season is always a difficult day or sometimes week before all the components start to work together in an efficient and productive fashion. There are several important things a ginner should remember when gearing up for the ginning season.
Safety Is Major Priority
First and foremost, all employees should be given proper safety training. Inevitably, you will have new employees working at the beginning of the ginning season with little experience and awareness of the potential hazards. Larry Davis of the Southern Cotton Ginners’ Association, says: “Just because you’re not ginning as much cotton this year, don’t shortcut your safety training. Everything you do in the way of safety pays off.”
All of the regional ginning organizations provide training to gin managers and full-time workers prior to the ginning season. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity. In addition, each of our three USDA ginning labs conducts a three-day gin school where safety and basic ginning principles are discussed and demonstrated.
Safety specialists from industry and academia provide the latest statistics and training updates for gin operators and managers.
At the beginning of the ginning season, employees should view safety videos and discuss safe work habits. Managers should walk through the gin with each employee to instruct how to safely do his job, point out specific hazards, provide and instruct the proper use of safety equipment and make sure all guards are in place before startup.
Safety training videos are available in both English and Spanish and can be obtained from the National Cotton Ginners Association, your regional or state ginning organization.
Make Necessary Repairs
Of course, all ginners spend time repairing and/or upgrading their gins during the off season. It’s just natural. Whether it is adding new cleaning equipment, an automated strapping system or just replacing gin saws or grid bars, proper installation and adjustment are needed.
It is difficult to test a modification during the repair season because of the electrical demand charges and/or there is no cotton available to gin. Many times ginners set aside some cotton from the previous season for that early season test and that helps to get the gin tuned up before the season starts in earnest.
Nothing is worse than starting up a gin and hearing that metal-on-metal clanking sound where someone forgot to secure a new bearing or left a tool in the hopper. You need to check and double check to make sure all modifications or repairs were done properly and are ready to go.
Make your best attempt at adjusting saw and grid bar clearances and plan to readjust after the startup period. Improperly adjusted equipment can cause excessive fiber loss or damage.
Keep Neighbors Informed
Many gins invite producers and sometimes neighbors to a pre-season meeting to review the latest updates, rule changes and ginning charges. This is always a good idea to make sure everyone is on the same page and to keep your neighbors knowledgeable of the ginning schedule and hopefully on your good side.
It is a good idea to find out what variety types, such as hairy leaf or small-seeded cotton, are being grown by your producers and if any special gin equipment setup is needed.
It is also very important to discuss methods for good defoliation and harvest preparation with your customers, making sure the cotton is dry when it goes into the module, modules are properly constructed, built in well drained areas and covers are in good condition.
Both gin turnout and ginning rate are adversely affected by wet modules, as shown in the table; ginning rate can be reduced more than 50 percent in wet cotton. If your gin provides covers, make sure they are in good condition and readily available.
There are some excellent brochures available on the GinTech Web site, http://msa.ars.usda.gov/gintech, as well as the National Cotton Council Web site, that will provide good reference and handout material.
Big Expense: Labor Costs
The cost of ginning cotton is an important concern for ginners and producers, as well. The latest cost survey for the 2007/08 season showed seasonal labor as the largest single expense item reported in this survey, followed by repair, energy (electrical and gas) and bagging/ties costs.
An average cost comparison based on the annual number of bales ginned showed that larger bale numbers help to reduce per-bale cost, primarily as a result of reduced labor cost. But individual gin data also shows that smaller gins can have similar per-bale costs as a larger gin.
For those gins that implement new technology and improved operation efficiency, cost can be controlled.
Gin managers can use average ginning cost data to evaluate their operations and improve efficiency. It is important to acknowledge that each gin plant has a unique design and seasonal operating characteristics that set it apart from others across the Belt. Gin operation and management go a long way in reducing variable costs.
Gin Needs Good Management
In summary, good management is an important factor in the survival of a gin, especially during this period of reduced cotton acres. Train your employees how to safely do their jobs; do your homework when investing in new equipment that improves productivity and/or quality; be mindful of good operational practices and don’t cut back on maintenance and repair of gin equipment.
I’m hoping your season is a safe and successful one.
Contact Tommy Valco via email at USDA/ARS in Stoneville, Miss., at email@example.com or (662) 686-5255.