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• Finding parts to keep gins in tip-top shape has become harder and harder due to industry consolidation.
• Gins will likely reduce shifts as less cotton comes off Mid-South farms, George LaCour says.
• Re-employing those workers after a year or more off could be difficult, especially if they’ve found work elsewhere.
AS GINNERS, we're bracing for the worst in 2013, says George LaCour, past president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Assocation. "But we have to keep a strong association to help us get through this downturn as best we can."
Gins will likely reduce shifts as less cotton comes off Mid-South farms, LaCour says. Re-employing those workers after a year or more off could be difficult, especially if they’ve found work elsewhere. He wants the SCGA to keep communications open during cotton’s downturn.
“The people who work in a gin are working people — they are people that everybody wants. And with our labor force as short as it is, I think it’s a challenge for our association to create a network to find capable people to help run gins.
“How do we go about trying to keep information on them, share information, and find parts? Losing the parts and losing the people — those are things that worry me the most.”
LaCour doesn’t want to lose inroads into the dairy industry either. With the help of Cotton Incorporated, cottonseed has become a highly-valued feed source for the industry. But with a significant reduction in cotton acres expected in 2013, that market could be in peril if there is a lack of supply.
The SCGA safety program is the cornerstone for the association, and something LaCour thinks about all the time. “I don’t want anybody in this business to get hurt,” he says. “In 2011, the Mid-South had two fatalities. That was devastating. The first thing I pray for is to have a safe year. Also, if we don’t have a good safety program, we can’t keep workers comp insurance rates where they are, much less be able to buy insurance. We’ve got to be safe in this industry.”
Despite the rocky times, LaCour says he thoroughly enjoyed his year as president of the SCGA. “It was fun. It wasn’t as fun as ginning cotton — nothing beats ginning cotton. It’s been a challenge in the sense that I’ve been watching the industry change.
“I have also met some of the most wonderful people. From every grower to every ginner, it’s just a great profession. We have genuine, salt-of-the-earth people in this industry; we all live and breathe cotton. I have a huge amount of appreciation for the SCGA staff. Our executive vice-president Tim Price does a wonderful job. We can’t do without Larry Davis and his safety program. It’s a great industry and we have a great organization; I have become really more appreciative of it during my term as president.”
Asked if he’s optimistic about cotton’s future, LaCour thought carefully. “I’m a farmer. I don’t know too many farmers who can be pessimistic. Anytime you put everything you’ve got on the line and wait on a rain, you’d sure as hell better be optimistic. An optimist plants, then waits on a rain; a pessimist waits on a rain and then plants.”