As was the case with other agriculture sectors, consolidations took a toll on the number of U.S. cotton gins in 2002. “There were 921 operating gins last year,” says Thomas Valco, cotton technology, transfer, and education coordinator for USDA's Agricultural Research Service at Stoneville, Miss., who has prepared a report on ginning industry trends.

Gin numbers have been declining at the rate of about 50 a year, he said at the Southern Cotton Ginners' northwest district meeting at Clarksdale, Miss. “This has been a pretty steady trend as smaller gins either go out of business or are combined with other gins to become bigger and more cost-competitive.”

In 1968, Valco says, there were 4,218 gins in the U.S., processing a crop of only 10.9 million bales. U.S. gins processed 16.7 million bales of cotton last season, he says, with an average volume of 18,143 bales — 15 percent below the 2001 crop, which was the largest on record. There were 970 gins in 2001, a 77 percent decline from 1968. Volume for the 2001 crop was 19.7 million bales, for a per-gin average of 20,364 bales.

“As cotton acreage has shifted from the more traditional production regions, larger gins, servicing a broader area, have begun to emerge. Although the number of gins continues to drop each year, the rate of decrease has slowed dramatically.”

The five-year U.S. average annual cotton production increased from 11.6 million bales in 1968 to about 16.7 million bales in 2002. At the same time, the average annual volume per gin rose from 2,588 bales annually to about 18,000.

“There were 97 gins in 2001 that had volumes in excess of 40,000 bales,” Valco says.

While gin numbers in other regions have been declining, the Southeast states have seen dramatic growth over the past 20 years.

The move to Universal Density (UD) bales has also had an impact on the industry.

Most textile mills will no longer purchase non-UD bales, which has made flat bales obsolete and forced older gins to install UD bale presses. UD bales now represent almost 100 percent of all cotton ginned in the United States.

“As individual gins process more bales, the trend toward warehousing bales at gins is increasing,” Valco says. “From all indications, this seems to be profitable, and has allowed larger gins to deliver the quality and quantity of cotton required by textile mills.”

The module system of handling and storing seed cotton “has impacted ginning more than any development in several decades,” he notes.

Since its introduction in 1972, the system has been widely adapted, and in 2000 was used on about 92 percent of the crop.

Another industry trend is long-term storage of cottonseed at gins, Valco says. “Many well-managed gins have the capacity to store a significant percentage of their cottonseed. The continued development of the whole cottonseed feeding market is the basic reason, although some gins store seed for crushing.”

The percentage of cottonseed fed directly to livestock has increased from about 13 percent in 1979 to an estimated 58 percent in 2001. The trend toward gin storage could slow, however, as cottonseed oil mills become more involved in the whole seed market.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com