How do you spot a cotton ginner? He's the one with the wild-eyed look of a deer in the headlights. What made him that way was trying to please everyone all the time, according to Michael Hooper, manager of Farmers Co-Op Gin in Buttonwillow, Calif.
Hooper's gin processes more than 100,000 bales annually, and he said it is a constant juggling act to try to please growers, merchants and warehouses, mills, OSHA, air pollution regulators, his employees, the labor department and others.
While trying to do that, he must remain focused on cleaning and preserving the cotton lint brought to him to gin.
The focal point at this year's Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Anaheim, Calif., was cotton fiber quality because of a beltwide decline in lint quality over the past few years.
The blame for the decline was passed around at Beltwide from varieties to the environment and of course gins.
Hooper was one of two ginners on a fiber quality panel that dissected the issue.
"Needless to say, quality and consistency have become the hallmarks of mill requirements as they seek to test the limits of cotton spinning potential," he said. The mills want longer, stronger, finer, cleaner and straighter fibers.
Hooper, manager at Farmer Co-op since 1990 and a second-generation ginner, said gins "hear their pleas. We feel their pain and we are complying whenever possible," he said.
The job has become a little easier with relaxation of preparation deductions and mill direct contracts allowing gins to lint clean less and drop drier temperatures.
However, less is not better from everyone's perspective. Growers like it because it increases turnout, but Hooper said growers "will not tolerate" any lint value reduction.
Mill customers, said Hooper, stress better spinability. However, to assure value and consistency, mills rely on a classification system of deductions, which may penalize and thwart the efforts of gins to gin gently.
Neps, short fiber, pin trash and seed coat fragments are other quality issues where the spotlight is focused on the gin.
Less at fault However, Hooper said recent research suggests that the gin is less at fault in these areas than previously thought. These can be negative inherent attributes of the raw cotton exasperated by picking and "varietal predispositions.
"Are we breeding inferior cotton?" asked Hooper, echoing others at the Beltwide conferences who contend the rush to develop transgenic cottons with higher yields and turnout are resulting in inferior lint varieties. And, is "ginability" even a consideration? he questioned.
"It is my hope that varieties can be developed which yield higher, that pick cleaner and require less processing while withstanding the rigors of saw lint removal," he said.
In the meantime, Farmers is trying to preserve quality by using roller gin stands to deliver a longer, more uniform and relatively nap free upland cotton. Roller ginning is typically for Extra Long Staple Pima cotton, but Hooper's operation has processed 170,000 upland bales using it in recent years.
In addition, Hooper said 25 percent of Farmers' saw ginned cotton goes through only one lint cleaner.
These steps are to "make the most of what Mother Nature, seed breeders and ultimately what our growers provide us."