In the heart of the small North Mississippi Delta town of Lyon (population, 350), a first-time visitor can drive down Killebrew Street and encounter old churches, beautiful brick homes, neatly mowed lawns, homegrown gardens, a farm office and one of the region’s oldest and most respected ginning operations.
Having this much diversity on a quiet street is unusual, but it has worked out just fine for Cliff Heaton, who runs the Bobo-Moseley Gin across the street from his farm office.
In today’s turbulent world of agriculture, this gin continues to reflect stability and customer service to those farmers who have sent their cotton to Heaton for decades.
Cliff’s father, Bill, and his great-great uncle, Charlie Bobo, formed the original partnership when they went into the public ginning business. Cliff’s grandmother’s maiden name was Moseley, and that is how the gin’s name was created.
For any gin to survive, it must have an excellent record for preserving cotton fiber quality, and that has been the reputation of the Bobo-Moseley Gin.
“If everything goes well this year, we could gin possibly as many as 50,000 bales,” says Heaton. “I certainly think the number will be somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 bales. Yields can vary, and that will influence what our final numbers will be.”
Gin’s Long History
The main advantages of the Bobo-Moseley Gin are that it is farmer-owned and has developed a mutually respectful relationship with local producers. Of the total cotton volume ginned this year, 25 percent will be from the Heaton farm, and the rest from area producers.
Due to various upgrades through the years, the gin can now handle about 1,100 bales each day, and that easily translates to between 50 and 60 bales per hour. According to Heaton, some kind of tweak or upgrade usually occurs after each ginning season. For example, he is evaluating right now how to be prepared to handle cotton harvested by the new John Deere on-board moduling system.
“We are doing everything possible to make the gin fast and efficient with the goal of producing high quality cotton,” says Heaton. “When I have a customer who switches to the John Deere system, our gin will be ready.”
With the increase in planted cotton acreage in 2011, the residual benefits to a gin are obvious. Heaton hopes this stability in cotton production in Mississippi will continue.
However, he feels very lucky that cotton didn’t lose too much acreage in Coahoma County where his farm and gin are located.
Keys To Success
Is there a secret to being a successful ginner today? Heaton says he learned all of his lessons from his father, Bill, who “believed you had to be 100 percent honest with your customers.”
“You have to be fair with them and accountable for everything that goes on,” he adds. “Consider it a privilege to gin their cotton. Since a large percentage of the cotton ginned is mine, I’ve got a vested interest in each bale.”
In early September, Heaton’s 30 gin employees will report for a month of intense work. Gin manager Rodney Conley will oversee the most important month of the year for the facility.
“It makes for long days and nights,” says Heaton. “But I have a lot of confidence in our ability to produce excellent cotton at this gin.”
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Cliff Heaton Has Loyal Customers
If a ginner’s success is measured by how long he keeps his customers, Cliff Heaton should feel encouraged these days. Two of his customers – David Mullens and Paul Tedford of Clarksdale, Miss., – have connections to the Bobo-Moseley Gin that total more than 50 years.
Mullens is completing his 17th cotton crop season, and his father and grandfather were friends with Cliff’s father, Bill Heaton, dating back several decades. Those family connections have created a special bond.
“It seems like our families have known each other forever,” says Mullens. “My farm is only about three miles from Cliff’s gin. In the 17 years I’ve been farming, I can’t ever remember having a problem. He gets the cotton ginned in a timely fashion, and his gin always seems to finish before any of the other gins.”
Mullens likes the way Cliff continues to upgrade the Bobo-Moseley Gin to make it more efficient. Each year, Heaton also provides module builders for Mullens when it’s time to deliver the cotton to the gin.
“Sometimes Cliff will put flotation tires on the modules to protect them,” says Mullens. “It makes it easier for his trucks to get in there and pick them up. I had 500 acres this year that had to be replanted because of wind damage. I asked Cliff for some advice on whether I should replant because he’s been farming longer than I have. That should tell you something about the relationship we have with him.”
Meanwhile, producer Paul Tedford in Coahoma County has a similar story. His family has been a gin customer with the Heatons since the early 1970s. He feels comfortable having his cotton ginned there. During one season many years ago, Tedford’s cotton continued to be processed in the older Heaton gin because it was receiving better grades.
“That’s the kind of thing that Cliff does,” says Tedford. “He’s always looking out for the best interests of his customers. Plus, he keeps us updated on USDA regulations and other issues occurring in the industry. We feel extremely fortunate in having Cliff gin our cotton.”
Even when newer gins have opened up for business in the region, Tedford and Mullens have remained loyal to Heaton. They have a true “comfort zone.”