Saturday, April 13, 2024

Agriculture Trumps Calculus

Although I was born in the suburbia of our nation’s capital, my parents shouldn’t have been surprised I ended up in agriculture. My dad grew up on a subsistence farm in Pennsylvania, and mom’s grandfather owned the only gin in Leslie, South Carolina.

After my parents got engaged, the U.S. Department of Agriculture transferred my father, who worked for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, to D.C. A few years later, I was born in Fairfax, Virginia. We moved several times, finally settling in Buda, Texas. Upon finishing high school, I had delusions of becoming a mechanical engineer via Texas A&M…until I took calculus. Given my family background, my counselor recommended agriculture. So I eagerly redirected my efforts into a new program under the ag engineering umbrella called Ag Systems Management.

I learned about ginning, employee safety, air quality and other gin-related subjects that have held me in good stead. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I studied under some premier professors whose legacies will forever be a part of ag history: Lambert Wilkes, who helped invent the module builder and module feeder systems; Dr. Calvin Parnell, an expert in grain dust explosions, air quality and cyclone design; and Dr. Bill Stout, an expert in tillage and tractor energy efficiency. These men shaped my educational background and made me feel lucky I didn’t get along with calculus!

After receiving my degree, I worked in the ASM Department for 18 months as a research associate on a “cage gin” project — my first experience working with a research prototype installed in a commercial gin. About that time, Jack Link and Tony Williams hired me as the first field safety rep for the Texas Cotton Ginners Association. Jack created the safety program on which most programs are still based today. Gins were having difficulty securing workers’ compensation insurance, but TCGA soon secured a policy through a carrier that mandated safety reps from TCGA work with each gin. I was moved to Corpus Christi to cover the eastern two-thirds of Texas.

My time in Texas exposed me to a very diverse segment of our industry. I worked with staff in some of the most modern gins of that period, and some whose equipment qualified to be in the Smithsonian Institution. This experience instilled in me a deep appreciation for the headaches that small entrepreneurial business operators had to deal with, whether it was ginning season or not.

In 1997, I joined the Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association as executive director and worked for its CEO, Bob Tucker. The region had experienced a rapid acreage and ginning capacity expansion, and the SCGA needed its own staff and executive. In the years since, the association has gone from 55 percent support to more than 85 percent, which I think is industry affirmation we are doing what they want us to do.

SCGA represents all six Southeastern states. From air quality permitting, compliance assistance and gin safety, to OSHA (both federal and state), trucking, commercial driver’s licenses and tax law compliance, there’s never a dull moment. We always learn something new to keep our gins and ginners safe and their businesses viable.

This industry has changed and advanced more than anyone could have predicted. As staff, we’ve found it invaluable to remain flexible, identify issues quickly and position experts in the field to resolve them. Twenty years of experience has taught me to appreciate our marvelous Board of Directors. With their ongoing guidance and insight, I pray we will have another 20 years of advancing the Southeast ginning business.

– Dusty Findley
CEO, Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association
Dawsonville, Georgia

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