“I’m worried more about the loss of gins in general — all those that have closed, and others that will close. If we have a big resurgence in cotton down the road, it could be difficult to rebuild the infrastructure. If we had another acreage increase on the order of what we saw in 2001, there might not be enough ginning capacity to handle it. Building a gin nowadays is an expensive undertaking.”

While Midnight Gin’s weathered buildings may not have the slick curbside appeal of more recent plants — it is one of Mississippi’s oldest continuously operating gins — the machinery inside has been systematically upgraded, Robert says. “We have a really efficient, smooth-running plant.”

The original gin, a used line shaft plant that had been moved from nearby Belzoni in the 1950s, was so slow the press operator laughingly said he could tie a bale, walk to the nearby store for a Coke, and get back before the next bale was ready to tie.

In 1966, it was torn down and replaced with the present facility. It had two Murray 120 gin stands, later converted to 142s, and even later another 142 was added.

“The Murray equipment is built like a Sherman tank — it’s so sturdy and reliable, there has been no need to replace it,” Robert says.

“We’ve added equipment to improve pre-cleaning and lint cleaning, and have made other changes to ‘soup up’ the operation, and we get a high level of efficiency and quality. In trial runs, we’ve gone as high as 43 bales per hour, but our ‘normal’ level is a bit over 30 bales per hour.

“A few years ago, we added another stick machine and split the flow of cotton so we could run it through two machines. We were able to find another Murray machine that was an exact match to the one we had and we had it rebuilt.

“Some years back, we also installed a Lipsey GinTech module feeder with a Keith Walking Floor, which made ginning less a batch and more a continuous flow process. And we’ve added sampling and wrapping machinery.”

Robert keeps the gin abreast of new technology through a close association with the USDA Ginning Laboratory at Stoneville. In 2002, he began working with a Power Roll gin stand that has computerized controls.

After seeing the added efficiency, computerized controls were added to the conventional gin stands. The result, he says: “More bales per day, and more units for spreading costs.”

He has also collaborated with Rick Byler at the Stoneville lab on a spray system to regulate moisture at various stages of the ginning process. “It’s simple, and it has improved fiber quality,” he says.

While none of Midnight Gin’s customers have module-builder pickers, Robert says, “We’ve done some trials to see if we could handle the round modules, and we found that we can do it expeditiously without adding equipment. But, I think there would have to be a dramatic change in the cotton-grains price relationship in favor of cotton to justify these growers investing in expensive new pickers.”

He gives Gin Manager James Holley, who has been there for eight years, credit for helping to make improvements to the gin plant and to keep the operation running smoothly. “Everything James has suggested has paid off,” he says. When in full operation, the gin has four full-time employees and seven or eight part-time, all from the local area.