Gins will likely reduce shifts as less cotton comes off Mid-South farms, LaCour says. Re-employing those workers after a year or more off could be difficult, especially if they’ve found work elsewhere. He wants the SCGA to keep communications open during cotton’s downturn.

“The people who work in a gin are working people — they are people that everybody wants. And with our labor force as short as it is, I think it’s a challenge for our association to create a network to find capable people to help run gins.

“How do we go about trying to keep information on them, share information, and find parts? Losing the parts and losing the people — those are things that worry me the most.”

LaCour doesn’t want to lose inroads into the dairy industry either. With the help of Cotton Incorporated, cottonseed has become a highly-valued feed source for the industry. But with a significant reduction in cotton acres expected in 2013, that market could be in peril if there is a lack of supply.

The SCGA safety program is the cornerstone for the association, and something LaCour thinks about all the time. “I don’t want anybody in this business to get hurt,” he says. “In 2011, the Mid-South had two fatalities. That was devastating. The first thing I pray for is to have a safe year. Also, if we don’t have a good safety program, we can’t keep workers comp insurance rates where they are, much less be able to buy insurance. We’ve got to be safe in this industry.”

Despite the rocky times, LaCour says he thoroughly enjoyed his year as president of the SCGA. “It was fun. It wasn’t as fun as ginning cotton — nothing beats ginning cotton. It’s been a challenge in the sense that I’ve been watching the industry change.

“I have also met some of the most wonderful people. From every grower to every ginner, it’s just a great profession. We have genuine, salt-of-the-earth people in this industry; we all live and breathe cotton. I have a huge amount of appreciation for the SCGA staff. Our executive vice president Tim Price does a wonderful job. We can’t do without Larry Davis and his safety program. It’s a great industry and we have a great organization; I have become really more appreciative of it during my term as president.”

Asked if he’s optimistic about cotton’s future, LaCour thought carefully. “I’m a farmer. I don’t know too many farmers who can be pessimistic. Anytime you put everything you’ve got on the line and wait on a rain, you’d sure as hell better be optimistic. An optimist plants, then waits on a rain; a pessimist waits on a rain and then plants.”

Tri-Parish Gin ginned a little over 19,000 bales in 2012 from about 9,000 producer acres. “We had some of the best grades we’ve had in years, beautiful staple and good micronaire,” says gin manager Peggy Grazeffi.

Despite the good quality and good yields, it won’t be enough to convince growers not to move to corn and soybeans in a big way this year. Fortunately, the gin’s customers aren’t getting too caught up in the rush to grain.

 “We have such wonderful producers,” Grazeffi said. “They have really supported this gin over the last three or four years. They know it’s critical that, when cotton comes back, this facility will be here. So they’ve hung in there.”

LaCour also farms rice, corn, wheat, soybeans, sugarcane and crawfish. He’s planning on cutting back on cotton in 2013, but he’ll still plant around 500 acres.

“As ginners, we’re bracing for the worst in 2013. But we have to keep a strong association to help get us through this downturn as best as possible. For years, cotton acreage was determined by the farm bill, then it was the market. In the future, cotton acreage may be determined by ginning capacity. We don’t want that.”

He believes grain prices will eventually collapse, as cotton prices did.

“There are growers who believe grain prices are going to stay high,” LaCour says. “The unreality of that is a good reason to stay in the cotton business. I have sold corn for less than $2 a bushel at the same time cotton was selling for 50 cents a pound and soybeans for $4.

“It won’t stay this way — it’s going to change. It may take a couple of years, but cotton is going to come back.”