Cotton production has been a key agricultural industry in the United States for centuries. New-Tex Gin is one company that is carrying on that tradition today. Based in the South Plains of Texas, which is one of the largest cotton-producing regions in the country, New-Tex Gin has been ginning cotton since 1962.
“This is a family operation, and we’ve been in this location since my parents moved out here and started this cotton ginning facility,” Manager Ron Craft says. “We take the cotton and separate the lint fiber from the cotton seed. Trash gets mixed in with the lint fiber during harvest, so we separate the trash from the lint fiber. We’ve been in this business as a family for years, going back five generations.”
Part of History
Every American schoolchild learns the story of the cotton gin. American inventor Eli Whitney created the mechanical cotton gin in 1793. Much has changed over the last 200-plus years, but the cotton-ginning process is still critical to the removal of seeds from cotton.
The modern process involves bringing cotton to the ginners in trailers or in compressed modules of up to 10 metric tons each. In fact, modules have reduced need for trailers to haul cotton to the gin.
Cotton delivered by trailer is sucked into the gin through a pipe. For modules, a feeder breaks the modules apart with spiked rollers and removes the biggest pieces of extraneous material. Loose cotton is then sucked into the gin in the same way as trailer-shipped cotton.
“The modules changed the structure of the industry, as transportation costs went down and cotton could be stored for longer periods,” Craft says. “Producers in the field could keep harvesting and not have to wait for an available trailer. Now, John Deere’s round bale harvester is a one-man operation that does a lot of work early on and reduces labor in the field. We can see that kind of equipment evolving and catching on.”
Next, a dryer removes excess moisture. Rotating, spiked cylinders break up large clumps of cotton. Fine soil and leaves are removed by passing through rods or screens. Stick machines remove bigger unnecessary pieces using centrifugal force.
Rotating saws pull cotton through ginning ribs to pull fibers from seeds that are too big to go through the ribs. An auger conveyor system removes cleaned seed, which can be reused for planting or processed into cottonseed oil and cottonseed meal at an oil mill. Lint cleaners remove immature seeds and excess matter from fibers. Finally, cotton is compressed into bales to be stored and shipped.
Today’s gins are capable of processing more than 30,000 pounds of cotton per hour. Whitney’s original cotton gin could produce up to 55 pounds of cotton each day. “What we do is essentially the Eli Whitney process on a much larger scale,” Craft says.
The Modern Market
Nowadays, the forces of supply and demand are certainly at work in the cotton marketplace. Cotton lint fiber is used to make everything from currency to clothing, and it is a global market. Many spinning mills have gone overseas, and the end-products are coming out of China.
“China is a big buyer of cotton, and that dictates the market as to what my customers can get for their product,” Craft says. “Cotton is sold by the pound in the U.S., and it is selling at about the same price as 20 to 30 years ago. The U.S. cotton market also now competes against markets in places like China, India and Australia.”
New-Tex Gin works hard to maintain strong ties with suppliers while also keeping up with technology. Its customer base is primarily within a 60-mile radius of the Plains, Texas location.
“This is a seasonal business, as we start operating around the start of October and run through mid-January on average, depending on the size of the crop,” Craft explains. “The producers have to deal with weather conditions, and a lack of rainfall in the last few years has impacted crops. They also have to compete with other crops grown in the area, like peanuts, watermelon and corn. About four or five years ago, our output was around 80,000 bales per year. More recently, it has been around 40,000 bales.”
Technology is key for New-Tex Gin because it allows the company to handle more bales per hour and to see higher output with less labor. “Because we are seasonal, it can be hard to find qualified labor, especially with the oilfields nearby,” Craft says. “But the technology coming out of the manufacturers has increased in size and has more automation, allowing us to do more with less.”
Like all gins in Texas, New-Tex Gin’s mentality is always focused on survival. Everything from foreign competition and unpredictable weather to increased regulations impact the cotton industry. Although the industry may be shrinking, Craft believes New-Tex Gin can find opportunity by increasing its capabilities so the company can handle more volume as smaller companies exit the scene.
“I love this business and have grown up in an industry that was green before green was cool,” Craft says. “From start to finish, there is no waste. We believe we can continue to succeed because we understand that this business requires a lot of faith and hard work.”