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ELM CITY — The Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin was projected to gin 26,000 bales of cotton when it finished ginning area cotton Dec. 19.
“Last year we ginned 22,000 bales off of 11,000 acres. That’s two bales per acre,” said Donald Smith, manager at the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin. “This year, we’ve got right at 15,000 acres, and we are going to do about 26,000 bales. We are going to gin more, but we had more acres to gin.”
Smith said area cotton acres will produce about 800 pounds per acre this year, versus the 1,000 that an acre produced last year.
Cotton from several area counties is brought to the gin to have cotton seed separated out to produce cleaned bales of “lint.”
About half of the cotton comes from Wilson and Nash counties combined. Other counties producing cotton brought to the gin include Greene, Edgecombe, Lenoir and Wake.
“It has been one of the more difficult years that I have experienced ginning and that being all this rain we have had,” Smith said. “We have gone for days and not ginned more than a couple of hundred bales, and we typically gin more than 600 bales.”
Smith said when the cotton is wet, the gin can’t do much with it.
“We have had a lot of it this year,” Smith said. “Our production has been cut well over 50 percent for a considerable amount of time due to the condition of the cotton.”
Smith said cotton is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture very easily.
“It wicks up water from the ground. It wicks up off of the rain from the sides, and then, farmers are trying to get it out of the field and they are probably pushing the limits on when they should be harvesting and when they shouldn’t be,” Smith said.
Heavy rains during the harvest season have contributed to slowing the ginning down.
“The hurricane affected the yields, but it didn’t affect the cotton condition at that time. The big rains we have had since have. We have had abnormal rainfall for harvest season,” Smith said. “This year, because of that storm, 10 miles made a lot of difference in your yields. I think the Wilson area’s crop, most producers were satisfied with it.”
An old cotton seed structure the Silver Lake gin disassembled in downtown Wilson and reassembled at its gin turns out to have been a good investment, Smith said.
The bin is nearly full of about 5,000 tons of cotton seed already.
“How it has helped is the price of cotton seed,” Smith explained. “When we started this year it was $117 (per ton). The price of cotton seed today is $150. So there is that much value in that storage. Otherwise, we would have had to sell at that level. Now we can hold it and sell it at this level. It has made a good move toward paying for itself. It seems like it is going to be a reasonable investment at this point in time.”
Smith said cotton has some promise next year, but the prices could be better.
“The only thing that supports the growth of cotton right now is the low value of every other commodity. Beans are cheap. Corn is cheap. It’s not like cotton is doing anything from a price perspective that is positive, but it is just the better of the evil that we are dealing with price-wise. All commodities are low right now, price-wise,” Smith said. “Farmers are basically just counting on yields right now because the numbers don’t work on price. It you don’t have a yield, you are going to have some problems.”
Silver Lake has taken on about 100 modules of cotton to gin for Whitakers Cotton Gin that will produce about 1,500 bales to bring the total amount of cotton the gin produces to 27,500 bales.
Whitakers is an older gin without much ginning capacity.
“We are just helping them out, just trying to help a neighbor out,” Smith said.