Jimmy Roppolo, general manager of the United Agricultural Cooperative, Inc., in El Campo, Texas, has seen a lot of changes in the ginning industry and has never been reluctant about embracing technology to make his gin perform more efficiently.
In this Q&A interview with Cotton Farming magazine, he talks about all of the technology that he has implemented in his gin. He also reflects on important trends he has observed in a career that began in 1985. One of the highlights of his career occurred earlier this year when he was honored by the National Cotton Ginners Association as the Horace Hayden “Ginner of the Year.”
The drought in Texas is discussed every year. What’s your assessment of conditions during the past two crop seasons?
We were in a terrible drought two years ago, as well as last year. However, in our area, we received some timely rains in 2012 and wound up making just over 150,000 bales. We were also fortunate in 2011 and thought we’d make only 20,000 to 25,000 bales, but it wound up being about 80,000 bales. It was amazing. We were just very fortunate because other areas in the state weren’t that lucky.
Are you ready for the 2013 season?
In our area, we are in excellent shape in the upper Gulf Coast. When you get down toward Corpus Christi, it seems to be a different story. We are definitely in pretty good shape, and I’d say that farmers have about 70 percent of their fertilizer already out. We’ll start planting corn first, and that will be followed by sorghum and then cotton.
How does a ginner know when to embrace technology in today’s cotton environment?
I’ve been in the ginning business since 1985, and there is definitely a lot of technology out there. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first ginners to observe the round module system about 10 years ago in California. When I first saw them, it scared me to death. But we love them now, and they work very well for us. Like anything, you need to learn about a new technology before you implement it into your operation.
What about the contamination issues that are confronting the industry?
We like to think that we are being diligent about preventing any contamination problems at the gin. We haven’t had any problems here. For instance, our workers are very careful when they take the wrapping off the round modules. We know that is a potential problem, and that’s why we exercise so much caution.
Can Texas ginners continue to handle big cotton crops like they did in 2010?
I think we can, but our situation here on the Gulf Coast is a bit different. We are under the gun to get our crop harvested and ginned as quickly as possible because of the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms. For instance, we can’t leave modules out in the fields for any length of time. It takes a lot of coordination to make this happen every fall. Because of the labor situation and electrical costs, we are much better off when we can gin the cotton quickly.
When you see a five-day weather forecast that has a hurricane threat, how does your crew mobilize?
First, we go around and have our guys check the tarps on the regular modules. Then, we check anything else that needs to be secured or tied down tighter. A lot of folks want to run when a hurricane is headed toward us. We try to keep our people together as long as possible until we know whether it will be a direct hit. We also have our pumps ready in case we receive a heavy rain.
Is there pressure in getting a farmer’s cotton ginned quickly after harvest?
There is definitely a lot of pressure to gin the cotton as quickly as possible. A lot of farmers get upset when their cotton hasn’t been ginned fast enough. We have an orderly process and try to be organized in our approach. However, it can get pretty frantic around here.
What about the importance of protecting fiber quality at the gin?
We are producing more cotton than ever before out of our seed cotton, and we pride ourselves on not overginning the cotton. We’ve had the IntelliGin system for about 12 years, and it has worked beautifully in telling us when we need extra lint cleaning.
How do you feel about Texas now producing half of the cotton planted in the United States?
We welcome the responsibility of growing half of the crop. I am proud of the fact that I can look at my producers and know that we’re doing the best possible job for them. We want them to get the biggest bang for their bucks. And that means taking care of their cotton in the best possible way. That is what got us here, and that’s what we’ll continue to strive to do.
How did it feel to be honored by the National Cotton Ginners Association earlier this year in Memphis?
I was in total shock when I received that award. It was a special feeling for me, and it was very humbling because this is a team effort here at our gin. It’s not about one person. I’m a Texas A&M alumnus, and I thought the year couldn’t get any better after football season when Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. In the ginning world, receiving this award is like winning the Heisman Trophy for me. Like I said, my name might have been on the award, but it belongs to everybody here at the gin.
What do you see in the future for the Texas cotton industry?
I realize that we are facing our share of issues and challenges, but I see a bright future ahead for cotton in this state. Cotton is our main crop, but it’s also a great rotation crop for farmers here. And, like I said before, I’m really excited about the technology that we have at our disposal, and I can’t say enough about the round-module technology. We had 18 of them here in our area last year, and it looks as if we’ll have about 30 this year. You know how farmers are. If they can make three bales and even close to four bales, that means they’re making good money on cotton. If we can somehow get better weather, improve our prices and get our carryover levels down, we’ll be in good shape. Cotton simply means too much to our state to turn our backs on it now.