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Cotton shortage hits Bulloch gins
Fewer area fields planted slows work at Bulloch gins
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Cotton seed is one of the many by-products of the ginning process. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Cotton Gin

How a cotton gin works

            With modules of harvested cotton lining the fields throughout Bulloch and surrounding counties, it would appear that this year's cotton crop is a big one when in reality, it is much smaller than previous years. Local cotton gin owners said that a combination of weather and higher prices being paid for other crops has lead to a significant decrease in local cotton production.

            Paul Richardson, general manager of Southern States' cotton gin in Statesboro, said his operation will probably gin 41 percent less cotton than last year.

            "Last year we ginned 56,227 bales of cotton," Richardson said. "We estimate that we will gin much less this year. That is a significant difference that can be directly attributable to the reduction in cotton production in this area."

            Richardson said Bulloch county farmers planted 56 percent less cotton this year than last, and there was a 46 percent decrease in the surrounding counties.

            "That is a very big deal," he said. "This is the lowest acreage in a long time which is a shame, because what was planted is yielding a very nice crop. Because it was so dry in the spring, many farmers were afraid to plant, and the price of other commodities got so high, that some farmers opted to plant those crops instead."

            Cotton ginning season usually runs from September through the first two weeks in January. This year, the season began a little later than normal according to Elaine Flynt, a spokesperson for the Candler Gin & Warehouse Company in Metter.

            "Normally, we would be operating full bore by the first of October, but we really didn't start ginning at that level until late November," Flynt said. "Not only was the cotton late, there just isn't nearly as much of it."

            The normal planting season for cotton in this area runs from the latter part of April until the first of June. Cotton is then harvested in the fall and delivered to the gin companies to be processed. The gin companies remove the seed and "trash" from the cotton, bale it, and grade it for sale.

            Over the loud roar of three massive ginning machines, Richardson said his Southern States operation will gin 16 hours per day, seven days a week, employing 40 seasonal workers during ginning season.

            "Even though overall production is lower than last year, we will still run two, eight hour shifts, every day of the week to get all of the cotton processed," he said. "With cotton gins, nothing goes to waste. The cotton is sold. The seed is sold overseas, and local farmers use the hulls or 'trash' as roughage for livestock."

            Southern States is not the only cotton gin in Bulloch County. The Bulloch Gin Company is located in Brooklet. Its president, Dominic Strozzo, said it is an off year for cotton, but he is optimistic that his company will gin roughly the same amount that it did last year.

            "Economically, it is going to hurt somewhat, and we probably aren't going to make the money that we are used to making, but we should be fine," Strozzo said. "Three or four years ago, we had a really bad year for cotton around here. It was a disaster. This year shouldn't be anything like that."

            Strozzo said that many farmers felt they could make a "killing" growing corn, and they turned to corn production over cotton. He feels like many will choose to grow more cotton next year.

            "Growing corn can be very expensive," he said. "With the cost of fertilizer and the like, many farmers may up their cotton production again next year."

            In 2007, Georgia farmers planted an estimated 1.02 million acres of cotton - 300,000 less than the year before.  That is a far cry from 1914, when Georgia farmers planted 5.15 million acres in cotton leading the nation in cotton production.

            Flynt said all her company can do is gin what they can and hope for more cotton next year.

            "This just isn't going to be a good year," she said. "The only hope is that maybe cotton will fall from the sky."