Outgoing Southern Cotton Ginners Association president Brad Williams admits that the past year has been exceptional.
"2020 has been as challenging as any year in my career," he said. "As far as crops, commodities and COVID, I think most producers and ginners have done well to overcome and adapt and then move on. And, I think it's taken us to a whole new level of management in forethought."
He also compared it to swimming through sharks and trying to make it to the beach.
"You persevere, but it's challenging," he said.
Last year's gin show took place as the shadow of COVID-19 began to roll into the U.S. Many events like the Mid-South show were canceled across the country as the pandemic spread.
"We were lucky to have the gin show in 2020," Williams said. "Lubbock was not so fortunate to have their show. But moving forward, we could tell this was going to be a longer lasting thing."
Williams at one of gin stands at Burlison Gin, Co., outside of Covington, Tenn. (Forrest Laws)
A lot of big businesses realized they had to make cuts and could survive, according to Williams. But he's not sure how the lack of personal contact at events like the farm and gin show and in regular business will affect individuals or businesses.
"I still believe in human interaction. The virtual aspect of all this and getting away from the human touch is a real concern. I think technology has its place, but I think we may have reached a whole new level of isolation because of technology," he said.
Nevertheless, SCGA readily made the move into the virtual realm by holding its regional safety meetings online. It canceled its annual summer meeting which was to be held in Muscle Shoals, Ala., a venue that was new to the association.
"The association has a lot of very good leadership and made financial decisions that would keep us very solvent and in a good financial position moving forward," he said. "Every meeting we've done has been virtual or very limited in the number of executive committee members. This was the first year we haven't had our summer meeting which was planned to be a very different meeting this year."
Change to virtual
Understanding that many expo-type events have been successful as they moved into the virtual environment, SCGA took a long, hard look at having a show in 2021.
"We realized that our show needed to continue," he said. "If you stop something, it's hard to start it back up. We've made definite moves to ensure there will be some sort of show."
He also noted that some of it was going to be out of the association’s control and subject to CDC and local regulations. With much forethought and good management, they moved into a new phase of development for the show.
"The show must go on and the show will continue. We're looking at 69 years. Of course, there's going to be a change in some of that. It might just be more creative because part of this show will be a virtual show."
He said that he was initially a bit hesitant to go virtual, not knowing what to expect, but understanding that it could broaden the base of participants, he knew that would be a good thing.
The information, sales and follow-up possibilities with the virtual show are vast and the association hopes to capture some of that this year.
The bottom line is Williams believes that the leadership of SCGA and Tim Price have done a great job staying viable and managing a new face of the farm and gin show this year, in addition to managing the regular association business.
Williams checking cotton in mid-summer 2020. It was a good crop given the circumstances. (Brent Murphree)
Williams notes that even with the challenges of 2020 the association never lost sight of its primary goal of keeping the gin environment safe.
"This year, all our safety meetings were virtual," Williams said. "The meetings we have annually for each state were canceled, but William Lindamood or Tim were always on the phone or email to continue their duties for the association."
The association not only kept on top of the normal operational and policy updates for the industry, but also helped the gins establish guidelines for COVID-19 policy for gin employees and visitors during ginning season. Williams noted that it is the same kind of thing they have been doing for 69 years.
"Everybody was concerned about what to do if they had an outbreak," he said. "The association did a great job making sure that we had masks available and the guidelines that we needed to deal with labor issues. It was all kept up on a daily basis as everything changed.
"William Lindamood did an excellent job. It was something outside of anything he ever had to do, but the association and the ginners realized that this could be a severe issue. The safety of our employees and the productivity of the gin was very important. A breakout and shutting down for two to three weeks, would be pretty detrimental."
Generally, cotton grades were good this year considering the weather and the late plantings. Things ran smoothly for most of the season and ginners adjusted to a new way of doing business.
"I mean everything this fall was pretty much normal," he said. "I guess you would say the new normal, yeah."