By Brent Murphree
Roller ginning upland cotton has been a topic of discussion for several years in the Western cotton gin community. This season, as profit margins on short-staple cotton get even tighter, the discussion is gaining increased traction as producers consider options for their operation.
Roller ginning uses a rotary knife to separate the seed from the lint and is most effective on Pima cotton, from which separating the fiber from the seed is easier. Saw ginning is less gentle on cotton, using a row of saw blades to pull the cotton through the system.
Traditionally, saw ginning short-staple cotton has been the only option. But, as strength and length increase in newer cotton varieties, roller ginning is becoming more of a possibility.
In California, where Acala varieties are consistently strong and long, roller ginning short staple has become a regular practice. In some cases, it can bring as much as a 15-cent premium. Ron Nickels, director of sales administration at Calcot, Ltd, says, “If cotton is long enough or strong enough, it can bring a premium. But, it canÊt be a normal 36 staple length.”
At less than a 40 grade for length, the cost of roller ginning an upland variety eliminates any kind of obvious price advantage.
Fiber Strength Must Improve
Paul Bush, vice president of Calcot, Ltd., in Arizona, agrees that in order to bring a better price, strength must be better than a 34 grade, and length must be longer than a 40 grade. And, it will be a hard task for Arizona producers to gain those grades on most of today’s conventional cotton varieties.
“What mills want is essentially a cheap Pima,” Bush says. And, most likely, those grades come from anything on the market
except for a very good Acala cotton.
In the past 20 years, most of the roller gins in Arizona and New Mexico have been decommissioned. In California, Pima acreage has kept many roller gins operational despite an overall decrease in cotton acres.
This year, California plans to harvest about 215,000 acres of cotton with more than two-thirds of that being Pima. Of the remaining 60,000 acres of upland cotton, Bush believes that 90 percent of those acres are Acala varieties – a great deal of which will be roller ginned.
A Timely Decision?
Greg Gilliard, general manager of Olam Cotton’s California Division, estimates that in the past several years 40 to 50 percent of upland ginned by Olam Cotton has been roller ginned. Olam Cotton made the decision to close its only California saw gin operation in Silver Creek, Calif., this year and will be roller ginning all of the upland Acala that comes to them.
According to Gilliard, Bayer CropScience’s FiberMax Acala Daytona and Hazera’s Pima/Acala hybrid are popular varieties in his area.
Melissa Campbell, manager at River Gin in Coolidge, Ariz., will be running a trial with Central Arizona upland cotton in its new roller stand. Increased Pima acreage in the area was the reason that her gin board approved installation of a roller gin
stand after decommissioning the original Pima gin more than 10 years ago.
Good upland length grades were an incentive to test about 100 harvested acres.
“We’re going to try about half of the cotton on the roller gin and the other half on the saw gin,” Campbell says.
The grades will be compared to see if it warrants running more through the Pima stand next season.
An Expensive Option
Phil Hickman, gin manager at Valley Gin in Tornillo, Texas, south of El Paso, has no plans to roller gin any of his upland cotton. Producers in the El Paso Valley have grown varieties that perform well in California, but the results have not been favorable enough to justify the extra expense to roller gin them.
However, as the breeding program in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico looks at increasing the yield and grades for low gossypol and gossypolfree varieties of Acala cotton, the Upper Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and Texas may find a strong variety that warrants the cost of roller ginning.
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. Contact him via email at