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New cotton gin in the NE Arkansas

Graves Gin is a new ground-up facility with state-of-the-art systems.

Brent Murphree, Senior Editor, Delta Farm Press

April 19, 2024

6 Slides

While brand new cotton gins are not an anomaly in the Midsouth, they are few and far between.

Tucked up under the bootheel of Missouri in northeast Arkansas, a long-time farm and gin family calculated the risk, consolidated the opertion and began construction on a new, state-of-the-art gin facility in Rector, Ark.

“We had done about 50 years of piecing stuff together,” said Chase Sain. “It was just time to start over.”

Not that Chase was doing the hard work 50 years ago, but he is the third generation to co-manage Graves Gin, the site of the new gin facility.

His grandfather, James W. Graves bought his first cotton gin in 1952. After several partnerships and mergers of gins in the area, Graves bought out co-owners of a gin at Hargrave Corner, just north of Rector. 

Chase’s father Gregg has been working for the operation since 1988. Gregg’s wife and Chase’s mother, Ginger, is Graves’ daughter. Gregg was also the Southern Cotton Ginners Association’s Ginner of the Year in 2015.

Two gins

By 2019 the family was running two gins about 25 miles from each other. The gin north of Rector had been upgraded over the years to process about 25 bales per hour and another one they ran in White Oak, Mo., was running about 35 bales an hour.

Ginner Dennis Adams, who has since retired, had worked hard to piece together the small plant in Rector and keep it running at its potential. But that potential was limited.

“We needed more capacity,” Chase Sain said. “We needed more bales per hour. Our building was too small. Our building was too short. Our press was fairly new, but it was a 10-year-old press - It was the newest thing we had. It just wasn't fast enough.”

The cost of operating two plants – one in Missouri and one in Arkansas – was high.

“Our main goal was to do everything in one location,” Sain said. “Because of logistics - probably 80% of my cotton is in Arkansas and 20% is in Missouri.”

The Missouri gin was faster, so to keep up with ginning demand they were sending some of their Arkansas cotton to be ginned in Missouri. Cotton that Sain could see from his gin office in Rector was being sent 25 miles away, adding to the cost of ginning the cotton.

Sain priced out what it would take to push the output of the Rector gin higher. In the end, with the size of the plant, they still wouldn’t have been able to push the rate much over 50 bales per hour.

“So, I said, ‘Just price the gin if we start from scratch,’” Sain explained. “Pretty quickly after looking at what we were going to spend on the old gin compared to just doing a new gin, it was a no brainer.

“We had done the 50 years of piecing stuff together and it was just time to start over.

“We've visited building a new gin my whole life. We've always talked about it. I'm glad we didn't do it 20 years ago because we wouldn't have built a big enough gin. We would've built a 50-bale-an-hour gin, and that's just not going to handle what we're needing to do.”

So, the family decided to pull the plug on the two older gins and build one large gin adjacent to the old Rector site.

Constructions begins

Following the 2021 ginning season, construction began on fresh ground in earnest on the new facility.

The expanded new building houses two Cherokee Magnum 270 gin stands and one Cherokee Avenger 193 gin stand. They are also running a 16-foot precleaning unit.

According to Sain, it is the only 16-foot cleaner in the world.

“When we started talking new gin, Cherokee had just developed the 16-foot equipment,” Sain said. “They approached me with it, and they said, ‘Hey, we think this will fit you.’”  

The alternative was to run two 12-foot cleaners. The difference between one 16-foot cleaner and two 12-foot cleaners would have amounted to over one million dollars.

The 16-footer had the same number of motors as a single 12-foot cleaner. There is also only one burner.

“I don't have two of everything. I just have one big one,” he said. “Our efficiency numbers on gas and electric are substantially lower. Those numbers really start mattering, especially when everything costs more - labor, gas, electric - nothing's getting cheaper.”

One issue they had to face head-on was ground water at their location.

“Our ground water is about eight feet,” he said. “My press pit is 32 feet deep, so we had to do a lot of dewatering.”

The Cherokee construction crew, which had built multiple gins together, were undaunted by the water situation. It took a bit of engineering, but the pit was dug, the concrete set, the space was pumped dry and sealed. It has been running dry ever since.

“I think we ended up with 3,500 yards of concrete in the whole plant,” he said.  “Like 7,000 feet of conduit for wire.”

State of the art

Everything is state of the art, and everything is monitored – air flow, electronics, belts, shafts.

“We can control the entire plant from one spot,” he said. “Everything is automated where if a motor kicks out it shuts everything down.”

And he can monitor gin activity from his office in another building.

The major controls are housed within an enclosed control center in front of the gin stands. Electric panels, which in other gins are exposed on the inside of the plant, are enclosed behind glass to keep them dust free, but still with easy access and visibility.

They had planned to have it ready to go by Sept. 1, 2022, but like many large engineering and construction projects there were a few delays.

“It's amazing that they built what they built in 228 days,” he said. “From a dirt cotton field to a bale of cotton in 228 days. It's pretty impressive.”

The delays pushed them to later in the season.

“I had people tell me that I needed to be ready for the first year because it’s going to be a nightmare,” he said.  “And you're like, well, it won't be that bad.”

It was bad, according to Sain. Tweaking the gin took two months longer than planned.

“We did not gin our first bail last year [2022] until November 4th,” he said. “The entire crop was picked at that point. Every single farmer was finished picking when we did our first bale. It was just a grind.”

He notes that there was really no one to blame, it was just a lot of equipment and a lot of new stuff to figure out. His growers stuck by him.

Year-round work

His work crew also held out that first season. He has about 30 full-time employees that also work for the family’s seed, chemical and fertilizer business. During growing season, the drivers are running fertilizer and seed. In the fall they run module trucks or operate the gin.

“It's hard to find people that'll consistently help,” he said.  “So, you end up buying your own stuff to operate. The fertilizer side makes it work.”

He was able to cut his seasonal labor in half because of operating only one plant.

“Seasonal labor is getting harder and harder to find,” he said. “It's hard to find somebody that wants to work 75 days straight 12 hours a day, and then they don't have a job at the end.”

The 2022 year, while extended, ended well with the gin processing about 88,000 bales of cotton, while yielded about 1,300 pounds to the acre.

When Farm Press spoke to Sain in early December of 2023, things were running flawlessly at the new gin with expectations of producing about 100,000 bales.

A good growing season helped growers reach an average of about 1,400 pounds per acre while achieving excellent grades.

“The gin can, in good cotton, steadily run 66 to 68 bales an hour,” he said. “That’s about 1,450 bales in 24 hours. We clean up each shift, so I always kind of figure on 23 hours, but we can set it and run - that's where I wanted to be - that's a bail every 52 seconds. They really start adding up.

The new gin also says a lot about the prospects for cotton in the area.

“Luckily our customers have stuck with cotton,” said Sain. “We've picked up a few new customers. The dollar cotton in 2022 got some people in the game and they liked it.

“If you get a guy that's always grown grain. He really likes that you pick a round bale of cotton, you stack it on the end of the turn row, and you don't have to touch it again - as opposed to hauling it and putting it in grain bin and hauling it again. It's just a lot easier. You could do a lot of acres with a lot less people.”

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About the Author(s)

Brent Murphree

Senior Editor, Delta Farm Press

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