In the face of cotton acreage reduction ... What's A Gin To Do?
With the drastic reduction in cotton acreage in 2007, all segments of the industry have been hit, and hit hard.
February 24, 2009
With the drastic reduction in cotton acreage in 2007, all segments of the industry have been hit, and hit hard. But probably none more so than the ginning industry.
“We’re off 40%,” says Richard Bransford, president of the Pettus Gin Co., just outside of Lonoke, AR. “We hope to get 10,000 bales this year, and I don’t know that we’ll get it. We think we can gin it all in five weeks.”
In 2005, Pettus ginned around 17,000 bales, and that fell to 12,000 in ’06.
So what’s a gin to do? There is no undeniable answer, but to start: Reduce costs and increase efficiencies.
The first thing Pettus Gin did to reduce overhead was to eliminate the night crew and run only during the day. In addition, several employees were moved to part-time status from full-time, and seasonal labor was eliminated altogether.
“We are not a big gin and it’s an old gin,” says Bransford, “but it does a good job of ginning.” He attributes that, in large part, to the work of gin manager Jack Miller: “Jack has been with us for about 25 years – he does a super job. We’d be lost without him. I admit I am not a ginner – I know where everything is, but I can’t say I gin cotton.”
That’s a humble statement considering Bransford was president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Assn. (SCGA) in 1994/95, SCGA Cotton Ginner of the Year in 1997, and president of the National Cotton Ginners in 2001/02. He has served as treasurer of the SCGA for over 25 years.
No to Temptation
Bransford says Pettus Gin Co. has resisted the temptation to invest millions in a more modern gin plant. “We haven’t changed a whole lot,” he says. “We try to keep things running, and right now, I don’t see any big changes … we haven’t had to speed up the gin a whole lot because we just don’t see the need to with no more cotton than we are ginning.”
And there’s another reason the gin has not had to spend money on increasing speed. Ask any ginner what the most dramatic change in the ginning industry has been over the past 20 or 30 years, and the answer, with very few exceptions, would be the introduction of modular handling of picked cotton.
“That’s it,” Bransford says. “Without modules, there wouldn’t be enough trailers in the world to handle all the cotton. Not just us, but other gins, too. As slow as gins are compared to the speed of harvest, you couldn’t do it with trailers. We’d go out of business.”
There is a sucker pipe at Pettus Gin, but it hasn’t worked in years. “It’s still hanging there,” says Bransford. “But it’s disconnected. We don’t want any trailers.”
Pettus does not have on-site seed storage, and there are no plans to build any. “We sell all of our seed to American Cotton Seed Network in Brinkley (AR),” Bransford explains. “If you store it through harvest, I guess you would get a better price, but there is a lot of expense in that seed house – insurance and not having your money tied up instead of cash flowing. We try to operate on a shoe string and we like to have our seed money coming in to pay expenses as we go along.”
If there is a positive side to the eruption in grain prices for cotton growers and ginners, it is that the per-ton price for cottonseed as a feed ingredient has somewhat followed along. “Last year,” says Bransford, “we sold it for $100 per ton. This year we have most of it booked for $159. That’s considerable. But as high as soybeans are, it should be higher because they usually stay together. But it’s up, and that’s going to be a big help.”
Richard Bransford and his son Rick with the Jack Deloney print awarded to the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year.