Never in their wildest dreams did Jack Huerkamp and Glenn Mast imagine how building a cotton gin could result in a dramatic return of the crop to Noxubee County, in east central Mississippi — which, in the early 1900s, was the leading cotton producing county in the state.
“I continue to be amazed, and very pleased at cotton’s comeback in our area,” says Huerkamp. “We’ve come a long way since our first year of operation in 2012, when Bogue Chitto ginned 35,000 bales.” That was the year they attended the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in search of a ginning manufacturer who would accept their pressed-for-time challenge of building a gin from the ground up in time for the ginning season that fall.
Word of their quest spread through the show and cotton industry grapevine, and they quickly inked a deal with Cherokee Gin’s Jerry Scarborough. “The intentions and determination of the Bogue Chitto grower stockholders were very clear — they wanted a gin that year,” recalls Scarborough. “They put together the financials, gave us our charge, and we soon started the process of making their vision a reality.”
At the gin-to-be site, a former hog operation with six farrowing houses had to be razed and hauled away to make room for the facility. Construction began in April, and by late October the $6.5 million facility ginned its first bale. Since then, the Bogue Chitto Gin’s board of directors has approved funds each year for operational upgrades. “Any upgrades we’ve made to the gin have generated better grades or more turnout, and in most cases, both,” says Jack Huerkamp.
MORE LINT IN BALES
The two Cherokee 244 gin stands originally installed were upgraded in 2015 to Cherokee Magnum 270s. By adding the extra 26 saws, the system can gin faster, grabbing more lint off of each seed.
“We went from a 5/8-inch gap between the saw blades to a 1/2-inch gap,” says General Manager Aaron Litwiller. “And by narrowing that gap, we’re now able to cut the lint more closely to the seed. We picked up two bales an hour of production per stand, while putting that extra fiber into a bale instead of allowing it to flow into the seed house.”
With cottonseed currently commanding only about 7 cents a pound, compared to about 70 cents a pound for lint, the more fiber that can be baled, the better for Bogue Chitto customers, he says.
In 2016, the gin’s board of directors approved funds for installation of an Uster Samuel Jackson Rapid Trash Monitor (RTM), which utilizes the same technology used by USDA Classing Offices to establish leaf content when grading cotton samples.
“Before this technology, we really didn’t know how much leaf we had in our ginned lint until we received classing data back several days after ginning,” says Litwiller. “We also added another gin stand, which kicked up our total production to more than 60 bales an hour.”
The RTM monitors cotton that passes through the lint flue, constantly evaluating leaf and bark trash levels. When those levels reach a predetermined threshold established by the ginner, the RTM monitors communicate with the burners to increase heat, which helps trash more readily release from lint.
“This system really helps us to more accurately regulate heat to improve the overall ginning process, without overheating and possibly damaging fiber,” says Litwiller. “It’s another computer-controlled process that adds value to the grower’s cotton.”
SOFTWARE BOOSTS EFFICIENCY
He and the gin staff encountered problems the last two years of cotton with bottlenecking at various places in the ginning sequence. “In 2015, we installed Kelley Electric’s GinManager software management program that makes on-the-fly adjustments to insure quality, production, and efficient ginning. The program provides immediate feedback, and alerts us to any problem that occurs in the ginning system.”
There has been a push from John Deere and other supporting organizations for gins to adopt Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to streamline the logistics of handling round modules, and to create a flow of back-and-forth information between growers and the entire cotton supply chain.
“RFID technology utilizes radio waves to read, capture, and transmit information that’s stored on RFID tags, like those embedded in the wrappers of all round modules,” says Dr. Ed Barnes, senior director of agricultural and environmental research for Cotton Incorporated.
Ginner Jonathon McBride, formerly at Silver Creek Gin at Holly Bluff, Miss., has been working to bridge the gaps that seem to exist in the RFID technology chain. “We were reading every RFID tag that came to the gin at Holly Bluff,” he says. “But we weren’t doing anything with the information other than locating the correct cut area on each round module. I think we should start encouraging producers to adopt the technology and let it flow down to the gin.”
MORE INFORMED DECISIONS
When that finally happens — and both McBride and Barnes say they know it will — producers will have the ability to overlay fiber quality data over a field’s satellite image, allowing them to make more informed precision farming decisions.
“The marketability of U.S. cotton will be enhanced, and strengthened by our ability to trace a finished cotton textile product back to the exact field where the cotton was grown,” says McBride, who is quick to credit Barnes and USDA-ARS Agricultural Engineer Dr. John Wanjura for their efforts to push the technology forward. They all agree that anything that can be done to increase the value or marketability of a grower’s cotton will also return value to the gin.
As was the case in many areas of the Mid-South and Southeast in 2017, the cotton crop was late. At Bogue Chitto Gin, the first bale wasn’t ginned until October 6. Some of their customers were still irrigating in late October.
Litwiller estimated they would gin cotton from 45,000 acres of fiber by the time the last bale is pressed — an increase of over 11,000 bales from 2015. “We ginned 95,221 bales in 2016,” says Litwiller.
“The way things are looking for the 2017 crop, we could hit the six figure mark.” As of January 1, Litwiller says, the gin had pressed 76,000 bales, and they were estimating wrapping up the season toward the end of January, with a projected 102,000 bales-plus.
For a gin that was contracted and built in six months, those involved with Bogue Chitto Gin just seem to love pushing the envelope and shattering records.