J McBride Miss Ginner.jpg

Holly Bluff, Miss., gin showing benefits of technology

RFID tags, round bales and tracking cotton in the field

Built in 2001, the gin plant at Holly Bluff, Miss., is large and increasingly focused on updating technology. This pursuit has proven beneficial not only for the gin but for the client producers.

“Presently, the majority of the producers we serve are within 40 miles,” says gin manager Jonathan McBride. “But we also have cotton from as far away as 140 miles – quite a haul. Of course, we’re always seeking opportunities to pick up customers and producers.”

Unlike many others in the Mid-South, the gin has gotten area cotton acreage to a steady point. “Back in 2007 through 2009 was our low years for cotton acreage. A lot of cotton shifted to corn in our area.

“Since 2010, that shift largely halted and we’ve averaged just under 60,000 bales a year since. We’ve had a low of 40,000 bales and a high of 70,000. Our core acreage, most of it gin shareholders’, has been between 22,000 and 25,000.”

2016 was the first year cotton was hauled from so far to Holly Bluff, which is near Yazoo City. “Part of that was because one of our producers had some land up around Clarksdale. We also picked up some new customers around Inverness and north of Indianola.”

Major changes

“We’ve seen a lot of change since 2001. A lot of that began when acreage moved to corn. The market has been asking for a better cotton product from the producer and from the gin. We’ve made improvements to meet those market demands.

“Obviously, technology has played a vital role in our being able to that. Round-bale pickers have made a big difference around here – and it’s been quick. In 2010, we had two round-bale pickers and put our first unwrapper in. We have two module feeders, so we put the second unwrapper in during 2011. In 2011, we’d jumped from two round-bale pickers to about 12. In 2016, there were about 20 round-bale pickers.”

The gin now primarily works round bales. “Conventional modules now come off about 500 acres of the 23,000 acres we service. That doesn’t mean we don’t the conventional modules but just shows how much the new technology has made a difference in the region.”

McBride says it’s been “very interesting” to see how the round bale technologies have impacted growers and the gin. “We began trying to see how grades were affected by round-bale pickers versus conventional basket pickers. How should we handle the round bales to ensure the best quality product? What’s the best way to keep contamination to the barest minimum?”

To keep up and get the best answers to such questions, McBride and colleagues do a lot of research. “I get to speak at the Stoneville Gin School pretty regularly. Those poor guys have to listen to me ramble,” says McBride laughing. “I tell them there are even more changes coming to ginning industry as a result of the round-bale pickers and modules.”

RFID

Three or four years ago, a producer approached McBride. “He asked ‘Hey, can we use these RFID tags on the plastic?’ He was interested in tracking bales and keep up with things on his end through the chip embedded in plastic of the wrap.

“Well, we were reading every one of those tags anyway, and always have. But our unwrapper was being used just to locate the best place to cut to keep from having plastic contamination.

“I said ‘Let me see what it would take.’ Then we started doing the research and found we’d need to set up communications, develop some of the gin software to handle an 11-digit serial number versus a five-digit module tag. After that, it became the gin software developers’ burden to get us where we needed to be.

“As we’ve used it, as more producers have adopted it, we’ve continually improved our ginning system. It’s to the point now where, in 2016, probably 60 percent of our cotton solely utilized the RFID tag.”

The information garnered is transmitted wirelessly through myjohndeere.com. The picker “actually uploads the information through a cellular network and the gin downloads it onto our computer. It streamlines the sharing, the transfer of that information from the producer to the gin.

That’s proven to be very important for the gin, which can handle much more than 60,000 bales. “So, at the 60,000-bale mark, the gin stays so close to the pickers that getting information to the gin as quickly as the cotton is picked becomes crucial to keeping the gin running at maximum efficiency. This technology is helping to make that a reality. We know what’s coming, what’s available, and can keep things humming as smoothly as possible.”

It’s also added a layer of comfort “because we can always know whose cotton we have in the plastic. If any tag hung on it was lost or something, we can just refer back to the serial number embedded in the plastic. That takes away so much worry about preserving the identity of the cotton.

“With conventional modules, the tarps were marked by the producer, of course and tags were attached to the tarp, and generally, producers painted their information on the side with module ink.  There was about always something to identify the conventional module by.  With these round bales, that’s not always the case.”

It’s also streamlined transfer of information within the gin, “as far as handling the module tags versus being able to simply upload numbers with a couple of mouse clicks. That’s just one way this RFID technology is doing well for us.

“For the grower, he’s able to track the four bales – and I say ‘four’ because typically a round bale is sectioned into four – and keep a constant eye on his commodity. Also, he can see where the cotton came from in his field and take that classing and yield information and track it back to specific coordinates. Then, he might want to make some management decisions, apply some precision agriculture, to that spot and maximize yields. It has also eliminated the need for a man to go physically tag modules.

2016 growing/ginning seasons

Heading into the 2016 growing season, “We thought we’d have 60,000 to 65,000 bales. It ended up we ginned 59,910 bales. The crop was close to what I thought it’d be. And it was a good crop that averaged just less than 1,300 pounds. That’s the third best crop we’ve had since I’ve been at the gin for 17 years.

“Our growers intended to plant more cotton acres in 2016 but high water meant they couldn’t get in the field when they wanted.”

Ginning season cranked up at the tail end of September and ended around November 12. “So, we had a good run. It was a dry fall and that always make things easier. There may have been a quarter-inch of rain that fell during harvest.

“As far as grades, we had some very good cotton and premiums abounded. All of those things worked in the producers favor. Lord knows, they needed a good crop this year considering where prices were and how other crops fared.”

The gin also changed up how the hauling of some cotton. “Actually, we don’t own any trucks – all that is contracted out locally to a gentleman who has always done a great job. Regardless, we began hauling the majority on flat-bed trailers.

“We load the trailers in the field with front-end loaders and unloading at the gin the same way. This past summer, we’d expanded our module storage because we knew there’d be more cotton to stage than was necessary in the past. That worked out very well.”

2017 expectations

McBride is hopeful “we’ll increase acres going into 2017. Maybe we’ll get 20 to 30 percent over what we had this year. I’m hearing some growers who’ve been out of cotton for years are considering getting back in. I’ve had some conversations with them wanting to know if we can gin their crops.

“We’ll take it; we have the capacity. The first six or seven years of the gin we averaged 80,000 to 90,000 bales a year with a high of 102,475 bales.”

TAGS: Cotton Gins
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