Cotton Links

- My Turn -

Planning For The Future


By Charley Knabb
Tunica, Miss.

It has happened! The cotton industry has taken a 90-degree turn away from the main highway and is currently speeding pedal-to-the-metal toward Beantown and Cornville.

Meanwhile, even though effects of this course change can be observed all across Ag-land, to me they seem no more severe than at the local cotton gin. Simply put, you can’t gin beans or corn.

For the 2007 season, decreases in cotton acreage of 30 to 50 percent were common. This was drastic for many gins, but many others were able to weather the storm with above-average yields and good cottonseed prices. But what about 2008 or 2009? How long before Soybean highway leads back to King Cotton’s interstate? Perhaps the best analyst to believe is the one who says, “I don’t know.”

Regardless of the length of this cotton vacation, we’ve got to plan for the trip. A safe precaution, however, would be to pull out the big suitcases. In my case, as it probably is for many others in similar circumstances, I will have a job this year because favorable cottonseed sales went a long way in making up for lost acreage. Unless we must rebate it away, we should have capital to fund the ‘08 season. However, based on cotton acreage predictions, I worry about 2009.

Even though my producers are planting everything but cotton, I am the person most affecting the terms of my own fate. Given the alternatives, these are terms I can work with because I am the gin manager. And since a manager’s chief responsibility is to ensure a gin’s profitability, I’ll focus on that as if my very job depends on it. Unfortunately, it probably does.

The numbers aren’t in yet for acres this year. We won’t know the worst of it until May or June. But, if I’m to improve the profit margin for 2008 to the point of protecting my job, I’ve got to start managing right now! We ginners tend to appreciate a more relaxed lifestyle once the last bale gets hauled away. But, for the next little while, we must be vigilant in eliminating inefficiencies whenever the gin doors are open.

Off-season electricity, tools, services and parts purchasing, fuel, waste disposal fees and man hours are all areas for improving repair season expenses. Attention to these details is probably more obvious to my ginner friends who manage smaller operations, but for me, our large volume has always justified focusing on production efficiency. This year will be different, so I plan to seek pointers from ginners accustomed to working with smaller budgets.

This year will also require a more maintenance-oriented app-roach to repairs. Even though we may have some off hours to do in-season maintenance, I don’t intend to do a halfway job with repairs. This year we’ll fix things more and install replacement parts less.

All things considered, there are encouraging signs that we can expect in this aftermath of change. Like our grandparents who survived the Great Depression, gins will survive by diversifying or developing other income-producing divisions.

There is clearly a transition occurring within the U.S. cotton industry. And some might wonder about the survival of the cotton gin. Regardless of the method, we are about to see what the descendants of Eli Whitney can do to help our industry, and I have no doubts about the ingenuity of ginners and gin managers.

So, while this is just as much a time of discipline as invention, I’ll pinch pennies. And, more excitedly, I’ll await with anticipation the ingenuity and innovation that has always sustained this great industry.

– Charley Knabb, Tunica, Miss.

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