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Gideon, Mo., cotton ginner, Jeff Lindsey, is the incoming SCGA president.

Forrest Laws

February 26, 2024

7 Min Read
Jeff Lindsey
Jeff Lindsey says improvements to the GinManager console have helped smooth out the flow of cotton through McCord Gin.Forrest Laws

For most of his career Jeff Lindsey has been a hands-on kind of ginner. He preferred working with his hands when it came to keeping a cotton gin running.

Now that Lindsey is about to take the reins of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association during the 2024 Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis, Tenn., he wants to be a hands-on kind of president.

Lindsey grew up in cotton gins, including McCord Gin Company, Inc., in Gideon, Mo., where he is now the manager and head ginner. There was a time when Lindsey wanted to try something else, but the pull of ginning brought him back.

“My dad, Keith Lindsey, was a ginner,” said Lindsey. “He worked in gins all my life so I kind of grew up around it. I was his back-up plan after school and on weekends. By the time I graduated high school I had done every job in the gin except run the console.”

He first worked at the gin when he was 14. “I started in the trailers swinging the suck pipe.” (Keith Lindsey is now retired.)

When Jeff graduated from high school, he wanted to be an engineer. He started college, but economics persuaded him to enter the Air Force after a couple of years. He finished his enlistment with an associate degree in electronics.

“When I was leaving the Air Force, I sent resumes to electronics and security companies all over the country,” he said. “I worked on lasers, infrared cameras and equipment like that while I was in the Air Force. But it seemed like I would have to end up in a big city. I’m not a city boy; I’m a country boy.

Beginning in Arkansas

“I weighed my options and went to work at the gin that had opened in Dumas, Ark.,” he said. “They had the new electronics and PLCs. Having had a little bit of a ginning background and knowing about some of the new electronics being put in, I was hired by Don Hooten to work there. The rest is history – I’ve been in gins fulltime ever since.”

Keith Lindsey had worked in gins up and down the Mid-South and for Lummus Corp., so the idea of moving wasn’t new to Jeff. “And the electronics companies didn’t want to pay a whole lot; I could make as much ginning.”

He worked at the Dumas Gin for two years and left in 1997 to work as head ginner for Corky Dalton who had opened a new gin in Senath, Mo.

“That ended up working out really well while I was there,” he said. “Then a few owners from McCord Gin came to talk to me. I’m from this area originally, but I had been gone for 14 years. When they asked me to be their manager, I was kind of surprised.

Electronics have allowed Lindsey to be a “hands-on” ginner at McCord and still be able to do all the other things a gin manager has to do.

“I like the mechanical side of it more – I think that’s just how I’m geared,” he said. “But I think I’m also good at the financial side. I’ve been here 20 years, and, financially, we’re much more solid. When I started here, it seemed like we were on life support. We were borrowing money to pay rebates. We don’t have to do that anymore.”

Lindsey has two computer monitors on the desk in his office – one for business information and one to display the feeds from the eight cameras mounted in key areas of the gin, allowing him to see what’s happening there. He also has a laptop running and displaying a live feed from the gin console so that he can see how the machines in the gin are operating.

“I can communicate with my guys through their headsets and talk them through a problem,” he said. “That way I don’t have to go over to the gin every time something goes wrong. My secretary, Sandra Marlow, also has video displays so she can keep up with the electronic bale information.”

Last gin standing

Gideon, Mo., is a microcosm of what’s been happening in the ginning industry. When the R.B. McCord’s Gin was founded in the 1940s, Gideon had five cotton gins. Now McCord Gin Company, Inc., is the remaining gin.

“For three years, 2013, 2014 and 2015, we only ginned around 12,000 bales per year due to the acreage reduction that occurred throughout the Mid-South,” said Lindsey. “When producers started raising more cotton again, I remember them talking about how could they afford to buy a million-dollar picker?

“Now one of my largest farmers, who’s a close friend of mine, has two of those where he used to run three conventionals. And he says that he never thought in a million years harvesting cotton would be easier than grain. Next year all of our producers will be operating round-bale pickers.”

(McCord ginned 33,244 bales in 2023 because of more acres and higher yields – producers around Gideon averaged three bales per acre.)

“When they asked me to do it (become SCGA president), it was an honor,” he said, “I believe if you are going to be part of something you need to participate. I don’t do it as much now, but earlier I was on the school board, park board, coached Little League baseball and participated in many other community events.

“I’m nervous about it – it’s a position unlike any I’ve ever held before. The biggest thing is whether we’re in a discussion about where we need to go as an association with our safety program or attrition with some of our employees that it’s moving forward.”

With all the challenges in ginning, Lindsey said he feels fortunate to be involved in an association with Tim Price as executive vice president and William Lindamood director of its safety program and veteran members on the board of directors.

“The leadership is solid,” he noted. “I want to approach this as one of the workers to get things done, not necessarily to help them get better because I think things are good now as far as the association. But we need to help the industry keep moving in the right direction.”

The smaller seed size of cotton is a concern. “Ginners have been talking about seed size for 10 years, and I guess we’ll keep talking about it until it falls on the right ears,” he said with a laugh. “Farmers love to talk about a 45-percent lint turnout, but I remind our producers that isn’t from trash being removed from the cotton, it’s smaller seed.”

Lindsey would also like to see ginners to continue working with Cotton Incorporated or the National Cotton Council to strengthen markets for cottonseed and products.

“It seems like anything we gained in the cottonseed oil market 20 years ago we’ve lost,” he said. “We’ve had oil mills close down. Almost all of the seed I sold this year went by rail to dairies in California. I’m glad we have that market, but we need more opportunities.”

Labor challenges

And labor continues to be an issue across the industry.

“I’ve hired two people in the last three years that knew nothing about ginning to train them to be ginners because nobody is coming into the industry. I am our head ginner – I still probably spend more time down there than I do in the office in the fall.

“The hours we work keeps some people from wanting to be a ginner. Not everyone wants to work like that.”

Getting people to move to rural areas is also challenging. “We’ve advertised for ginners, and we interview them and nothing comes of it,” he said. “There’s not much here. For example, you have to drive 45 minutes to the closest hospital.

Being from the area helps. His secretary, Sandy, and all the full-time employees are from Gideon. Having family in the area helps retain employees. His son, Ross, is a civil engineer in Jonesboro, Ark., and he has other family much closer.

Then there’s the gin. “I love ginning. I like being in a cotton gin. I love to hear it roar.”

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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