Although energy costs have abated somewhat from their sky high levels earlier in the year, many Mid-South ginners will likely still be looking at higher operating costs than last season for electricity and dryer fuel.
But there are opportunities to reduce those costs, says agricultural engineer Bill Mayfield, consultant for the Southern Cotton Ginners Association.
“About 40 percent of the electricity cost for a normal gin operation is to run fans,” he told members of the Mississippi Cotton Ginners Association at their annual meeting at Clarksdale, Miss. “If you increase the moisture content of the bale, you can not only cut this cost, you will also reduce wear and tear on the machinery.”
Ginners should analyze the per bale kilowatt hour (kWh) usage, he said, and it “should be in the low 40 kWh per bale range. If it's over 45 kWh, you need to analyze your operation to see what you can do to reduce it.”
It is sometimes possible, he noted, to negotiate with the power company on electric rates. “You can ask them about increasing your power factor in order to more efficiently use the electricity you're paying for.”
Fuel to run the dryer, either natural gas or LP gas, should average $1 per bale or less, Mayfield said.
“One way to save money on drying: don't do as much of it. Running the dryer as high as it will go takes more management, reduces quality, and increases your fuel cost. Another way is to insulate the dryer and hot air pipes; this can save as much as 25 percent to 30 percent on fuel.”
Ginners should also compare costs of natural gas and LP gas, Mayfield advised. “Last year, some LP gas contracts were very attractive. Look at prices off-season, because they fluctuate during the year.”
He cautioned ginners about altering gin machinery from manufacturer specifications.
“Leave the machinery as it was designed,” he said. “The manufacturers know what they're doing. Electric motors run more efficiently when they're fully loaded; if a motor burns out, replace it with one that's the same size. Don't assume that because it burned out, you should replace it with a larger motor.”
But, he said, when replacing motors and fans, energy savings can be obtained by going to high efficiency units. “These cost more initially, but the savings will pay off over the long haul.”
And Mayfield said, “Always shut the gin down when cotton isn't flowing or you're clearing out jams. It not only saves money, it's safer.”
Mayfield, who retired as USDA's Extension cotton specialist, is now providing consulting service to the ginner association and is available to assist members on a wide range of technical problems as well as compliance with environmental regulations.