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Gin maintenance pays dividends

A good maintenance program for cotton gins can reduce downtime, cut costs, and reduce the potential for workplace injuries.

And, says Stanley Anthony, who is research leader of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service Cotton Ginning Research Unit at Stoneville, Miss., it can improve efficiency; reduce energy, labor, and fuel costs; reduce fiber damage and waste; and improve fiber quality.

Faced with escalating costs on every front, ginners can also help hold the line by close attention to management. They may even, he says, consider the “dirty word, consolidation,” to help reduce costs.

“When we survey cotton gins, we see a wide range of maintenance costs — from $1 to $10 per bale,” he said at a joint meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and the Delta Council's Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee and Advisory Research Committee.

“It's evident that ginners can save a lot of money simply by doing a better job of maintenance. But when we speak with gin managers, we often hear, ‘We just don't have money available for the maintenance.’ Many also tell us there's no money available for making improvements to the gin.”

But, Anthony says, even minimal expenditures on maintenance can make the system operate better. “It might take only $20,000 or $30,000 to make needed improvements, but that might return $300,000 to the gin and its customers.”

Faced with “almost exponential increases” in costs for natural gas, propane, and electricity, gins will see drying costs skyrocket this fall, he says. “The cost of dryer fuel is going to be about three times what it was in 2001.”

Electricity costs will also be up significantly, and he says ginners should be careful that they start their gins during the first part of a billing cycle, rather than late in the cycle. “If you start late in the billing cycle, your demand rate will be set on the basis of only a few days' ginning, and that can be very expensive. So, call your electrical energy supplier before you start the gin.”

Insulating drying systems can reduce fuel costs as much as 30 percent, Anthony says, and digital meters to monitor modules can cut costs. “Ginners may have to reevaluate drying needs to achieve better dryer control and know the true moisture content.”

Labor costs for gins have been averaging about $11 per bale, he notes, while gin managers continue to face problems with declining availability of reliable labor, language barriers, etc. Training for gin managers and other personnel is available through the USDA Ginning Laboratories.

Although many ginners consider it a dirty word, consolidation can offer opportunities for reducing costs, Anthony says.

“This could be done in several ways — for example, maintaining separate gins but consolidating management of two or more gins. One or more gins could be closed, with the remaining gin(s) upgraded, or a new gin could be built. Consolidation can reduce costs for administration, management, labor, ginning, repairs, and maintenance, with reduction of as much as $4 per bale in variable costs.”

Integration of additional services into the ginning operation, such as marketing, warehousing, and farm supplies could improve the revenue stream and make more funds available for maintenance and modernization.

“Improvements and efficiencies in management are among the best ways to decrease costs and increase profits,” Anthony says. “This requires smart decisions at the management level. Each bale of cotton must be processed intelligently in order to increase profits to the farmers.

“Performing needed maintenance and careful attention to managing labor, operational issues, scheduling, etc., can all help the bottom line.”

Investing in new technology is “critical to a gin's success,” Anthony says, but he cautions that “some technology is a poor investment — you need to carefully evaluate any new technology and be sure you know what you're doing.”

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