If you haven’t walked into a cotton gin in a while, you need to do so – with the ginner’s permission, of course. In the last 20 years, there has been a dynamic shift in the increased efficiency of ginning across the Cotton Belt.
In the West, reduced labor costs, increased safety, lower emissions and higher returns to the producers are just a few of the benefits of this new ginning environment.
While there has been a noticeable decline in cotton acreage in California, Arizona and New Mexico, ginning efficiencies have also had a large impact on the reduced number of gins in this particular region.
Decrease In Bales Ginned
In 1995, 190 cotton gins processed 3,663,500 bales of cotton in California, Arizona and New Mexico. In 2009, 69 gins processed 1,402,200 bales of cotton in the same area, according to the United States Department of Agricul-ture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS).
The number of cotton bales ginned has decreased by 62 percent since 1995, while the number of cotton gins has decreased by 64 percent.
Charlie Owen of Glenbar Gin in Pima, Ariz., notes that a number of factors have increased the efficiency of Western ginning, one being more producers using transgenic cotton.
“Roundup Ready cotton requires less machinery to clean the cotton,” he says, noting that stick machines and lint cleaners are used less.
He also cites the cotton module as a source for efficiency. The ginner can run a producer’s cotton in one large block of modules, moisture levels are usually more uniform among one producer’s block of modules and feeding the cotton into the gin with the module feeder creates a more uniform flow of cotton that, in turn, allows optimum cleaning efficiency.
Working in the gin is not as hard a job as it used to be, says Owen, nor is it as dangerous. There are no punch-out sticks to unlock jams in the gin stand; therefore, there are fewer injuries at the stand.
The press is more efficient with hydraulics and strapping machines, which reduces the number of personnel to operate, and that translates into fewer opportunities for operator error.
As for the operation of the gin stand, so much is now computerized that Owen says, “If they’re (the operators) sitting in the chair, that’s good. It means the gin is running.”
Wayne Gilbert, chairman of the California Cotton Ginners Association and manager of Broadview Cooperative Gin in Firebaugh, Calif., says many of that state’s changes have arisen out of financial necessity.
“Its been tough,” he says of the ginning industry in his state.
His gin has a capacity for ginning well over 50,000 bales a season. The last two years it has averaged fewer than 20,000 bales.
Many of the changes he has made at Broadview have just been fine-tuning processes already in place, including moisture control equipment and reconsideration of rental equipment.
Cotton ginners agree that good cottonseed prices have added a great deal to the gin’s bottom line.
Michael Hooper of Farmers Cooperative in Buttonwillow, Calif., says that those cottonseed prices are one of the reasons roller ginned upland cotton is able to carry the costs of roller ginning.
“Many of the inputs are more costly,” he says of roller ginned upland.
But, he believes the process is important for fiber preservation and capitalizing on California’s reputation for quality cotton.
According to Hooper, roller ginned upland cotton also has a two to four percent higher turnout than saw-ginned cotton.
Slightly more than 112,000 bales of upland cotton were roller ginned in California this season.
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. He resides in Maricopa, Ariz.