Will the Mid-South cotton industry recover its economic advantage by continuing to weather the storm? Or as west Tennessee cotton producer and ginner Richard Kelley suggests, by going on the offensive?

It is perhaps the most troubling dilemma the region’s cotton industry has ever faced.

But it’s no surprise that Kelley isn’t laying low and waiting for something to happen. As a leader in the National Cotton Ginners Association and the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, he has spent much of his time urging the Mid-South and U.S. cotton industries to maintain their current advantages — efficient storage and delivery of cotton and contamination-free fiber.

He also believes the cotton industry is in need of an infusion of innovation and a proactive approach to rejuvenating its domestic textile industry.

 

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For his contributions to an industry struggling to find optimism, Kelley was named the Southern Cotton Ginners Association’s Ginner of the Year and was honored at the group’s annual awards banquet held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. He recently served as president of SCGA and currently is NCGA president.

“The Ginner of the Year award is one of the most cherished honors a ginner can receive,” he says. “To be nominated by industry leaders — people I’ve looked up to, like ginners Larry McClendon, Bill Lindamood and Kenneth Hood — makes it even more an honor.”

Tim Price, executive vice president of SCGA, says, “Richard honors the old traditions, but he also understands that we are in a dynamic industry. He never rests when it comes to figuring how to do something a little better or a little differently.”

Kelley and his family operate Burlison Gin Co., Inc., and Kelcot Warehouses, LLC, an impressive compound occupying both sides of a curve on Hwy. 59 in the forested countryside of west Tennessee.

They are also part of a management team that oversees a large cotton, corn and soybean operation consisting of over 20,000 acres. The operation includes Richard, his wife, Charlotte, their daughter, Kerry, and her husband, Brad Williams, and daughter Leslie and her husband, Michael Roane.

 

Burlison Gin

Kelley was a dark-haired young man, with a wife and a couple of small children, when he borrowed nearly $1 million to buy out his other partners in the Murray gin facility that originally stood on the site.

Today, there are more buildings and newer equipment, his children are grown and married, and his hair has turned to silver, but the desire to fight for maximum profits, no matter how difficult solutions may be, still burns inside him.

Not easy challenges, when fewer cotton acres have trimmed his gross revenues, but Kelley resists the urge to cut corners at the gin, which has four Continental 141 Double Eagle gin stands with a split 10-foot overhead, a Continental 9300 press and a Samuel Jackson drying system.

After nearly 28 years of engineering, building, and maintaining equipment, he has intimate knowledge of almost every lint cleaner setting and air flow measurement in the plant.

This helps him to dig deep to find extra dollars for him and his producers. An example: To determine if an equipment upgrade is needed at the gin, he has undertaken a study of the relationship between the number of saw blades in a gin stand and the amount of lint left on the seed, to see if it’s feasible to purchase new gin stands.

For the last 10 years, he’s also been at the forefront of research on moisture management technology at the gin. “The technology wasn’t available until systems were developed that provided ginners with a measurement of final bale moisture,” Kelley says. “When you have that, you can add moisture and collect an additional $10 to $15 a bale.”

But, it must be monitored closely. “Excessive moisture can cause deterioration in the bale,” he says. “The National Cotton Council’s Bale Packaging Committee now requires that final bale moisture not exceed 7.5 percent.”

It’s part of an ongoing process that he says spurs him to strive “to be the best I can be and never be satisfied. I never do anything the easy way. You have to keep doing the little things that try to put a little more money in the farmer’s pocket.”