EDITOR’S NOTE: Maleisa Finch, owner of the Kiech- Shauver-Miller Gin in Monette, Ark., has seen her share of challenges in the ginning business. Even with reduced cotton acres this year in Northeast Arkansas, she is ready to implement a plan to help her gin and long-time customers. She shares her thoughts in this interview with Cotton Farming Editor Tommy Horton.
How are you dealing with the current situation?
I could probably write a book about this. First, ginners love to gin cotton, but we know it will be a different fall with the reduced cotton acres. To me, the best thing to do is think positive. You can’t shut the doors while the game is still going on. We’ve had something that has been good, and it will probably be good again. It’s all about maintaining an attitude that will help you survive.
Can cotton survive in a diversified crop mix in your area?
We are definitely looking at a major shift in acres in Arkansas. Frankly, I don’t think we need to go back to a “fencerow to fencerow” cotton environment. I think we need to diversify. The farmers need it, and the soil needs it. The problem occurs when you see cotton harvesters on acres that reduced cotton by 25 to 50 percent. That is a concern.
How much of a price increase does cotton need?
If farmers reached a point where they could put 73 or 75 cents in their pockets, I think you’d see a change in attitude. That would certainly be the case for those farmers who don’t have the grain equipment. I think they would be fine and grow as much cotton as they could.
As a ginner, how do you advise young farmers today?
Right now, it’s hard for a young person to start farming unless someone is there to support him. Young farmers probably aren’t used to these kinds of hard times. They haven’t seen what the older generation has experienced. You have to be prepared for tough times and know how to survive.
How long do you intend to stay in the ginning business?
I am in this game for the long run. That means I’m in the ballgame until the last out. My mama and daddy said if you’ve done your best and tried to be fair, you should sleep good at night. If my farmers and employees are okay, I’ll be okay.
What is your mindset as you approach the ginning season?
Well, the first thing you have to do is cut expenses wherever you can. I am looking at 12-hour shifts instead of 24-hour operations. I want to be sensitive to how this will affect our workers who are with us every fall. Fortunately, we aren’t looking at many repairs at our gin. Mainly, we have to keep our spending at a minimum. Having said all of this, we still are committed to taking care of our farmers’ cotton and putting money back into their pockets.
Can gins work together to solve current problems?
I definitely think we need to work together to get through our problems. Our area ginners and I talk to each other all the time. In the end, we have to take care of our business and customers. That’s what I learned from my daddy. We can’t worry about somebody beating us on a rebate. We’re all in this together, and I am certainly willing to visit with anybody to figure out how we can survive and go forward.
How will producers and ginners feel when this crisis has ended?
After we have survived this situation, we will see a different side to the ginner. He will better understand what a farmer has to go through when acres are down and prices drop. We’ll also learn that we have to work with our neighbors. For the farmer, it means learning the consequences when crops are grown next to your neighbor’s farm. We have to respect each other.
How has your gin dealt with contamination issues?
I feel good about what we’ve done in this area. We’ve had merchants, mote buyers and even the National Cotton Council visit our gin, and I’m proud of our record of delivering clean cotton to the mills. We have never had any complaints about contaminated cotton. I think most of the problems in our area come from plastic bags that might wind up in a field before the crop is harvested. As I said, I am proud of the kind of cotton quality our area produces.
How hard is it for a gin to reopen after it closes down?
To me, the hardest thing about reopening a gin would be the employees that we’ve worked hard to keep. Some of our employees have been with us for more than 20 years. They can’t wait around and hope that you reopen. How do they survive? I am here to tell you that you could go to an Ivy League university and not find the employees I have here. If I were closed for a second year, I’d worry about keeping my customers. It’s important to do whatever you can to keep that cotton gin in business.
Do you have any regrets about building your big gin in Monette?
I have been asked that question more than once, and the answer is “no.” You make the decision based on the information you had at your disposal. Farmers are the same way. If they had a crystal ball, would they have bought those round module pickers? Maybe not. If I win the lottery, I promise to buy every one of my farmers a round module picker. Seriously, we do the best we can to make the best decisions.
If you had a message for ginners, what would it be?
If you have something that needs to be corrected at your gin, go ahead and do it. Be as efficient as possible. Accept the things that you can’t change. If it’s out of your control, don’t waste time worrying about it. Face the challenges you have and don’t give up. Find something to supplement your income during these hard times. If we all stick together, we can get through these next two years.
For more information, contact Maleisa Finch in Monette, Ark., at email@example.com.