On a sunny mid-November afternoon, the Mattson Gin is in the final two days of ginning the 2012 crop of 50,000 bales — the second largest number ever.

Harry Flowers is pleased that the gin plant has completed the season without a hitch, that the cotton crop was “our best ever,” and that the gin crew added another year of safe operation to their longtime excellent record.

In the decades since he first started working the graveyard shift at the gin for his uncle Roy Flowers, he’s been a participant in an evolution in farming and ginning — from the first early-day mechanical cotton pickers to today’s on-board module machines, from a 1950s gin that creaked out 4 bales per hour to a modern plant that can whiz through 1,000 bales in a day.

For his contributions to the cotton and ginning industries during his career, he has been chosen as the Southern Cotton Ginners Association Ginner of the Year, and was honored at the group’s annual awards banquet held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show.

“During his career in ginning and farming, Harry has been in the forefront of adapting new technologies and innovative practices,” says Tim Price, SCGA executive vice president. “He and his gin management team have continually sought ways to enhance the safety of their operation.”

It is of the gin’s safety achievements that he is particularly proud. He remembers all too well the long-ago accident that could have been fatal for his brother, Dick.

“In about 1973, sometime around 2:00 in the morning, I got a call that Dick had been caught in the rollers at our Robinsonville, Miss., gin. He probably would live, I was told, but could lose an arm. Thankfully, he lived, and he didn’t lose his arm. But he had to go through painful skin grafts and a long recovery, and he bears the scars to this day.”

In the years that followed, he says, “We made safety our No. 1 concern. And in that same era, manufacturers began focusing on ways to make gin equipment safer, with additional emphasis on guards and other devices to reduce the potential for accidents.

“Anything that makes our operation safer, we’ve done it,” Harry says. “I don’t want to ever know that one of our employees has been hurt because we didn’t do everything possible to provide a safe workplace.”

He has praise for the SCGA’s safety programs for gins. “They have a wide range of videos, posters, and training materials for employees and managers to create an awareness that safety is an every day, every hour necessity. Larry Davis, SCGA safety director, has done a first class job of assisting gins with their safety programs and with a yearly awards program that recognizes gins for their outstanding safety work.

“We have weekly safety meetings for all our personnel. We’re very proud of our safety record and we want to do everything possible to maintain that record and insure that none of them is hurt on the job.

“When we shut down at the end of the season, we begin a systematic program of going through the gin to inspect all the equipment, to see what needs repairing or replacing, and getting everything in tip-top shape and in the best possible operating condition for the next year.”

The 2012 ginning season started Sept. 12 and finished Nov. 15, Harry says. “It was one of the best seasons ever, due in large part, I think, to the more efficient harvesting with round module pickers and the handling of those modules. It was our second biggest ginning year ever; the record was in 2006, when we ginned 53,000 bales.

“We operate six days a week, with three 8-hour shifts, and we shut down for Sunday. I’m just not comfortable with a round-the-clock 7-day operation — I think it just increases the odds of an accident. I’d rather shut down and give our people some time to rest and recharge. I think this helps us to maintain a safer working environment.”

“We may be one of the few gins that operates entirely with local labor. We’re fortunate to be able to get good people in this area, many of whom have been with us for years.

“We have 12-15 employees in the gin, plus a manager for each shift crew.”