The steady decline in the number of U.S. cotton gins continued last year, mirroring the consolidation trend in American business and industry.

“In 2003, we had 890 gins nationwide,” says Thomas Valco, Office of Technology, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Stoneville, Miss. “That was down from 931 the year before and 1,533 in 1990. Typically, we lose 15 to 40 gins each year, and since 1990 it has averaged 50 per year.”

At the same time, also reflecting general U.S. business trends, the gins remaining are reporting higher volumes,” he told members of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at their summer conference at Lafayette, La.

The annual volume now averages about 20,000 bales.

“All indications are that these trends in gin numbers and volume will continue moving in the same directions, and this will require remaining gins to adopt new technologies to increase capacity and deliver a timely, quality product.”

In recent years, Valco says, the shift of cotton between regions, particularly to the Southeast, has resulted in “dramatic changes” in state gin numbers. The largest reduction in production has been in the West, 38 percent, with Southwest and Mid-South declines not far behind, at 32 percent and 33 percent respectively.

The Southeast, with only a 4 percent reduction in active gin numbers since 1994, reflects the growth of that area's cotton production. Georgia, Florida, and Virginia had a net production increase during the period, as did Kansas in the Southwest.

California had the largest average annual volume per gin, followed by Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. Kansas gins are new plants and have high annual volumes. New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have the lowest annual volume per gin, in part reflecting their smaller production volumes and other special situations. Texas has the largest percentage of small gins under 10,000 bales per year and California has the highest percentage of large gins.

“While smaller gins provide an important service,” Valco says, “it's difficult to continue to operate with those low volumes and to afford newer technology and meet regulatory requirements.

“There will continue to be opportunities for the consolidation and modernization of gin plants, where production trends allow for increased ginning volumes. In states where there are pretty high numbers of gins with less than 5,000 bales, we would expect to see continuing consolidation.”

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com