One of the fears that came with the severe reduction in cotton acreage over the past three years was loss of infrastructure, most notably in the ginning industry. There were gins in the Mississippi Delta that saw reductions of put-through of up to 90%, and it won’t come back this year.
“There was an impact on the ginning infrastructure in states where we had the large decreases in acreage, especially in the Mid-South and parts of the Southeast. And the same would be true for the Far West and California,” says Harrison Ashley, Vice President of Ginning Services at the National Cotton Council, who also serves as Executive Vice President of National Cotton Ginners Assn.
But for the rest of the Cotton Belt, 2010 looks promising, despite fewer gins in operation.
“It’s good to finally see an increase in acreage. An acre that is planted today is not the same as one you planted 20 years ago with the yields we’re getting,” Ashley says. “I think it will help the gins that are in business, but I don’t think it will stop some of the consolidation that is already being considered, because that’s just where the industry is headed.”
In 2008, according to Ashley, there were 734 gins operating in the United States. The preliminary number from the National Agricultural Statistics Service for 2009 is 679.
“We have some further consolidation, but those gins that remain are welcoming those extra acres, that’s for sure,” says Ashley. “There will likely be gins that were dormant in 2009 due to drought or for other reasons that will reopen. With the recent rains in Texas, folks are very upbeat.”
The recent Southwest Ginners School held in Lubbock at the South Plains Ginning Laboratory is a case-in-point. There were 148 in attendance for all four levels, which was a record. Last year just over 100 attended.
“That’s a good indication,” says Ross Rutherford, Product General Manager at Lummus Corporation. “People will cut back and not send their ginners to Gin School if it’s a lean year. We had excellent participation this year. So that tells me that they’re investing in training, which means that they are getting ready for things to be better.”
Rutherford says the contrast in attitude among those in the ginning industry between now and a year ago is palpable.
“A year ago at the Memphis show, business was extremely slow. It was a very, very, almost morose type mood in the industry. And that was spilling over into the Lubbock show, just a general downturn,” he says.
“But this year, with the talk in more acreage, we’ve already got some orders on the books. We’ve got other people talking to us about business, so we see a lot more optimism.”