Construction on a new Noxubee County cotton gin is scheduled to begin Thursday. A $6.5 million investment, Bogue Chitto Gin, Inc. is expected to bring state-of-the-art technology to the Black Prairie area. Created by a group of 25 cotton farmers from Aliceville, Ala., Lowndes, Clay and Noxubee counties, completion of the gin will lead to the creation of four full-time jobs and 20 to 25 temporary jobs, during harvest season. Rodney Mast, a member of the investment group responsible for the new gin, noted a need and market for the new business.
“There haven’t been any new gins built in Mississippi in a long time,” Mast said. “We have been hauling our cotton 50 to 100 miles to have it ginned. A new gin will give us a better product, as well. This will put more money back in the farmer’s pocket.”
A cotton gin separates the leaf trash, seeds and stems from the cotton, leaving a pure product. Kept and sold for cattle feed and cooking oil, the seeds also are a useable item.
Mast said the modern gin had humble beginnings.
“Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin,” he explained. “According to legend, he got the idea for the gin by watching a cat reaching through a chicken wire fence and trying to grab something with its claws. He took that concept and applied it to cotton. I don’t know if this is true, but it is what I’ve been told.”
A cotton county
“At one time Noxubee County was the leading cotton-producing county in the state.
“We’ve had a history of producing cotton,” Dr. Dennis Reginelli, of the Mississippi State University Extension Office, said. “Things changed for a while and the farmers went with soybeans. We’ve always had a few farmers who had stable cotton crops and in the early 1990s, more people started planting cotton in the Black Prairie area of Noxubee County. In the last couple of years, cotton production has really taken off, based on commodity sales. I would say there is probably about 20,000 acres of cotton in Noxubee County and south Lowndes County.”
“The central/east central region of Mississippi has always had cotton, at least as far back as (United States Department of Agriculture) county level data are available,” said Dr. John Michael Riley, assistant extension professor of MSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics. “Until mid-1960, this region accounted for approximately 15 percent of the state’s acreage. It quickly fell to about five percent of the state’s acreage over the next 15 years, around 1980. Since then, it has bounced around two percent to six percent of the state’s total cotton acres. In 2010, cotton acres in the Black Prairie region were four percent of the state’s 420,000 acres.”
Planting the crop
Reginelli said cotton is very dependent upon soil temperature, with the ideal morning temperature around 60 degrees. An unseasonably warm winter led to changes for this year’s planting in Noxubee County.
“It has been very warm this year, and we started planting about two weeks ago,” Reginelli said. “Years ago, we would have never planted cotton before May 1. But with temperatures in the 80s, during the day, and in the 60s at night, we planted earlier this year. We also look for a favorable five-day forecast. You don’t want to get your cotton in the ground and then it rains three inches two days later and turns cold.”
Although too much rainfall is bad for the crop, a rainfall shortage can be equally devastating. To help control the amount of water the cotton receives, many farmers in the Noxubee/Lowndes area of the Black Prairie have started using irrigation systems. The most popular irrigation method in the area is known as “center pivot.”
Center pivot irrigation, also called circle irrigation, is an electronic overhead sprinkler system with several connecting pipes mounted on a wheel system. The average center pivot irrigates around 1/4 of a mile in a circular pattern.
“We are seeing more and more of this every year,” Reginelli said. “Most of the water we use comes from a watershed, which is a water source dug in the ground. But we are beginning to see more and more deep irrigation wells constructed. Center pivot irrigation is perfect for cotton and corn and soybeans. It has given us a good yield advantage.”
Once the cotton grows to maturity, it is harvested, usually beginning around the first of September through mid-October.
Reginelli said Noxubee County farmers had a “good yield and a good commodity price last year, (but) Mississippi’s cotton production, as a whole, has dropped off considerably.”
“Mississippi has fallen in the national ranking of cotton production in recent years, as other crops have become more prominent,” Riley noted. “Currently cotton prices are in the neighborhood of 87 cents per pound. At this time last year cotton prices were about $2 a pound, due to limited global supplies.”