David Cochran Jr. has been preparing for his role as president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association his entire life — he just didn’t realize it.
Today, Avon Gin, in Avon, Miss., sits on a parcel of land that housed the property’s first gin in 1903. For decades, it was a community/cooperative gin, but in the 1970s, when David’s grandfather, H.T. Cochran, was president, cotton acres took a dive, but he decided the time was right to purchase it.
“There were three other stockholders who wanted to continue growing cotton, so they became managing partners,” says David. By the 1990s, H.T. Cochran had died, and the three remaining stockholders were nearing retirement age. So, the Cochran family bought out the stockholders. David’s father, Buddy, took over as president, and Avon Gin became privately owned.
“I don’t know if that was a wise decision or not, but we’re still here today,” David laughs. “Although we are a privately owned gin, we operate under a cooperative business model.”
When he opened the gin doors in August 1994, prior to the ginning season, it was “a nightmare,” he recalls. But the ginning staff, who had been employed by the Cochran family for decades, worked diligently to prepare the gin. “We had to clean out fast food containers from the fan motors, and get skunks out of the press pit,” David says. “It was a mess, but somehow we managed to gin a crop that year.”
Each year, the Cochrans make it a point to install or upgrade a piece of equipment that will add further value to the service they provide their grower customers.
A Samuel Jackson Moisture Control System was installed in 2017. “It measures moisture levels as cotton enters the gin and automatically makes adjustments to prevent under- or over-drying,” David says. “It also adjusts the humidifier unit to ensure adequate moisture prior to the bale being pressed.”
Buddy Cochran is still heavily involved in day-to-day operation of the gin, and was responsible for the acquisition of a very unique piece of equipment still in operation today — a Lipsey GinTech module feeder with a Keith Walking Floor. He had previously purchased a TrashMax gin trash handling system from Lipsey Gintech, so a working relationship was already in place. “My father and Mr. William Lipsey were friends, and this was the first prototype of their new module feeder,” David says.
A new strapping system was installed in 2010 that further increased the gin’s overall efficiency. Through the years, they have evaluated various dryers and other equipment, but the Cochrans and their ginner, Charlie Jennings, have never tried to run the gin as fast as they could.
“We strive to find that good, steady pace that allows the system to deliver the best grades,” says David. “The less you clean fiber, the more likely you are going to preserve cotton’s staple length.”
Jennings has been with Avon Gin since 2003. His grandfather once operated Rebel Gin at Arcola, Miss. In his late 20s, Jennings was selling gin equipment for Lummus, and his name came up when Avon Gin put out the word they needed a ginner. “Charlie was young at the time, but I went to bat for him,” says David. “He’s probably the youngest old-timer in the ginning industry. He does an exceptional job running our gin plant.”
Early in the 2017 season, Avon was picking up as much as 600 points, based on USDA classing records. “Anytime you can bring 6 cents per pound value back to a producer, he’s going to be pleased, and so are we,” says David.
Through the years, bale production has fluctuated with acreage, but Avon Gin held steady in the 25,000 to 30,000 bale range through the 1990s. When grain prices escalated in the mid-2000s, there was one year when they struggled to press 6,000 bales.
“We were estimating around 17,000 bales this year,” David says, “but the crop changed so much in August — it’s very disheartening to see what 15 inches of rain can do to a field of cotton that’s so good it’s spooky. We ended up ginning 13,884 bales, and shut the gin down December 1.”
Most Mid-Southerners who aren’t involved with cotton or agriculture likely aren’t familiar with the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, but if you mention the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, lights go on and bells start ringing.
“The show is our banner event each year,” David says, “and the Mid-South has really embraced it. I remember, in the 1970s, when our parents would take us to Memphis for the show, and they’d let us ride the shuttle to the convention center from our hotel, the old Holiday Inn Rivermont down on the south end of Riverside Drive. It was like Christmas all over again for my brother and me. We always looked forward to seeing all the shiny new equipment.”
SAFETY A PRIORITY
As a ginner himself, he is well aware of the dangers inherent in both farming and ginning, and during his term as SCGA president, David says, he will continue the association’s long-standing emphasis on ginning safety. The SCGA safety program, with a focus on constant training and awareness of potential dangers, has been highly successful in reducing accidents in member gins.
Avon Gin has always been a dues-paying member of the association, and he says he will encourage all gins to do the same. “SCGA has returned much more to its members than can be covered by their per-bale dues,” he says. “The association is very proactive in working to influence new regulations as well.”
As David begins his term as SCGA president, he says he looks forward to working with other associations and organizations, including the National Cotton Council, as the cotton industry gears up to work with lawmakers on the new farm bill. “Hopefully, we can get cotton as a covered commodity. Our industry has been going through some economic struggles, and getting that provision worked into the farm bill would do so much for us. Between contamination, hurricanes, and low cottonseed prices, we’ve got plenty of work to be done.”
He is painfully cognizant of how one problem — like lint contamination — can reverberate through the entire industry. And he will speak on SCGA’s behalf with a message of unity.
“We are all in this collectively,” David says. “If contamination causes a buyer to choose a man-made fiber over cotton, that could hurt seed sales or equipment sales down the line. I would also like to see us open up new food markets through the release of gossypol-free cottonseed. I firmly believe that holds great potential for untapped profitability.”
Asked to describe himself in five words, he pauses, then says: “Misunderstood, caring, trustworthy, thoughtful, and concerned.” Though those unaware of his deep passion for the cotton industry may initially misunderstand him, the last four words perfectly reflect the kind of president the SCGA will get with David Cochran Jr.