New Mississippi Facility Exceeds Wildest Dreams
By Carroll Smith
Tucked away in Noxubee County, Miss., about 1½ miles down Deerbrook Road, Bogue Chitto Gin Inc. is an impressive testimony to area producers’ faith in cotton. The 25 stockholders settled on the name Bogue Chitto (“big water”) as a nod to the Choctaw Indian culture that is of historical significance to the area.
In 2011, local farmers had a good cotton crop and wanted to raise even more acres of cotton. However, ginning capacity at the time was an issue. In 2012, cotton farmer Glenn Mast attended the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show where he talked with several gin manufacturers about the possibility of building a facility for the 2013 season. To his surprise, Cherokee Fabrication in Salem, Ala., said it could get the gin built for the 2012 season.
With this offer on the table, area farmers held a meeting, and at the end of the day, pledged $1.6 million toward the $6 million project. Cotton farmer Rodney McGill provided the land, which was once a hog operation. The farmers all pitched in with their equipment to tear down the old buildings, move dirt, build a pad for the seed house and clean up the place. Cherokee began construction, and about six months later, the doors at Bogue Chitto Gin were open for business. That first year, the gin turned out more than 35,000 bales. In 2013, it ginned more than 36,000. Bogue Chitto Gin services 13 counties in Mississippi and six in Alabama.
Customers, Acres Trend Upward
Aaron Litwiller, who was hired as general manager in 2014, says, “During my first year with the gin, we ginned more than 55,000 bales, and in 2015, more than 60,000. In their wildest dreams, the investors thought 40,000 bales might come through the facility. This gin has done far more than we ever expected, and we are thankful for that.
“All of the stockholders gin their cotton here, and in 2015, 47 percent of our bales came from non-stockholders. We feel that’s a real vote of confidence. They know we will do them right. We treat everybody the same across the board. We’ve also seen a 10 to 20 percent increase in cotton acreage for the past three years in this area, and expect to see that increase again in 2017.
“Our farmers have found a corn and cotton rotation works well for them. Having a local gin where they can see their cotton being processed adds another dynamic to their operations as well. During ginning season, many of the producers gather in the gin’s observation room to watch the cotton being processed and trade ideas with one another.
“There is a lot of excitement surrounding this gin that permeates throughout the community. We do everything we can to help our farmers make money to ensure that cotton remains a viable option.”
Today, the gin has two Cherokee Magnum 270 Gin Stand & Feeder systems. Bogue Chitto is currently a 50-bale-per-hour gin although each of the gin stands has a capacity of more than 30 bales per hour.
“Right now, 45-50 is the sweet spot for us,” Litwiller says. “We run six days a week, 24 hours a day with 12-hour shifts and shut down on Sunday. We employ about 25 people during ginning season. For some of our employees, this will be their fifth season with us.”
The gin also has an E Cotton Gin System that records all the bales that enter the facility. This electronic warehouse receipt system uses a computer to track the cotton from the time it goes across the scale until it leaves in a trailer bound for the warehouse.
In 2013, the gin installed an Argus Infrared Spark Detector that sounds an alarm before a fire has a chance to spread. Other improvements include a new computerized moisture technology unit to optimize moisture in the cotton as it goes through the gin.
“We are real excited about the Samuel Jackson RTM (rapid trash monitor) that we installed this year, too,” Litwiller says. “This system reads the amount of trash in the cotton every few seconds. We have a set point for trash content. The computer adjusts the heaters and the cotton flow to remove as much trash as possible. If we can drop the trash content by one point, a farmer can pick up a penny a pound or more depending on where the grade falls. That adds up quickly on a 500-pound bale.
“Another game changer for cotton is the John Deere 7760 Cotton Picker. We like the round modules because the cotton stays the same as the day it was picked. The conventional modules tend to wick up moisture and have a lot more exposed area. We also save money on transportation costs. We have three module trucks that will haul four round modules and some semi flatbed trailers that can haul eight. These trailers double our radius for picking up cotton. We utilize custom haulers from Texas, too. If a farmer wants to bring in his own cotton, we cover the hauling cost.”
In 2012, 52 percent of the cotton ginned at Bogue Chitto arrived as round modules. The projection for 2016 is 70 percent.
“At Bogue Chitto Gin, we are all onboard, fully committed and optimistic,” Litwiller says.
“Doug Dahlem, our ginner, comes from a family of ginners. His son, Hunter, who also works here, is fourth generation. Doug oversees all the ginning, repairs and maintenance. I can’t overemphasize his role. Both he and Hunter graduated from the Stoneville Ginners School and
are now taking continuing education courses.
“Kevin Mast, our safety director, is also a key player. He is doing an excellent job. Outside of honoring the Lord in what we do, being proactive in providing a safe work environment for our employees is No. 1. Safety is first and foremost. We have weekly safety meetings; job descriptions for each employee; mandatory safety glasses and ear plugs; and a lock-out, tag-out system to prevent accidents. We also installed safety mats around the bale press.”
Litwiller says the Southern Cotton Ginners Association has been instrumental in helping them achieve their safety goals. The organization provides safety material, and William Lindamood, the SCGA safety director, inspects the gin once a year and makes recommendations for any additional safety measures that need to be implemented. Bogue Chitto Gin’s good safety record has not gone unnoticed. In both 2014 and 2015, the gin received SCGA’s Platinum Award for Excellence in Safety.
“We believe cotton has a place at the table in this area and is going to stay here in the long run,” Litwiller says.
“Cotton is a Southern crop for many reasons. It can withstand the heat and longer periods of dry weather and is a good rotation crop. The new seed varieties are vigorous and high yielding, and production practices have improved. When you put all these factors together, cotton is going to be a viable option for many years to come. To me, that’s exciting, and we are eager to do our part.”