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• In the decades since he first started working the graveyard shift at the gin for his uncle Roy Flowers, Harry Flowers has 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.
DURING HIS CAREER in ginning and farming, Harry Flowers has been in the forefront of adapting new technologies and innovative practices.
Gin built in 1950s
“The gin was built in the 1950s and was originally two gins, each running about 4 bales per hour,” Harry says. “It was owned by my uncle, Roy Flowers, who came to this area in 1910.
“When I started working at the gin, Uncle Roy would stay in the office until midnight. I’d come on duty at 10 p.m., work until 7:00 the next morning, then pull cotton trailers to the field. I’d go home and sleep until 1 p.m., then go to the field where they were picking, stay there until they quit, then go home for some dinner and a bit of rest before going back to the gin at 10 p.m. The gin manager had a cot at the gin and would sleep there.”
In 1970, the two old gins were taken out and a single modern gin installed.
“At that time, Uncle Roy, who was near 90 years old, gave me a half interest in the gin. My brothers, Richard (Dick) and Taylor Graydon (Sonny) had gins at Dublin and Robinsonville, but over the years those were shut down and they became owners with me in this gin. We all farm separately, but we share ownership of the gin.
“We’ve continually upgraded and improved it, and we now have a modern facility than can turn out about 1,000 bales per day. When it’s running well, we can do 60 bales an hour.
“We have three Lummus gin stands and Stover equipment for unwrapping and handling round modules. We felt the Stover equipment was the strongest and best, and we’ve had no problems in handling the round modules.
“Since 1997, we’ve ginned over half a million bales, and over the lifetime of the gin at least 1 million. We ginned a bit over 50,000 bales in 2012, with 75 percent to 80 percent being from round modules. About 85 percent of the cotton we gin is from Flowers family farms.
“We have two John Deere round module pickers and rent a third, and one of our customers also has one. The rest of the cotton we gin is from conventional modules. I don’t foresee conventional modules going away anytime soon, because some of our customers can’t justify the cost of the new pickers.
“We were concerned at first about the higher cost of wrapping for the modules and the equipment to unwrap and handle them at the gin. But everything has worked out, and we really like the round modules. Handling in the field is much more efficient and they store well.
“The Deere pickers are very efficient — you never have to stop. We can easily pick 60 acres to 70 acres per day. A major efficiency/cost savings is in not having tractors tied up with boll buggies and other operations; they’re freed up for stalk cutting and other work. And transporting the pickers and support equipment from one area to another is much easier.”
On his farming operation, acreage in 2012 was split about 50/50 cotton and grains, Harry says, “But unless there is a significant change in the grains/cotton price relationship, I look for a dramatic downturn in cotton acres in 2013. We could be looking at a 50 percent decline in the number of bales we gin this year.”
About 70 percent of their land is classified as Cotton 1 or Cotton 2 soils, he says, and they try not to put cotton on their heavy land.
“We soil test all our land on a rotating basis every three years. The acres that come out of cotton on our better land this year will probably go into corn. 2012 was also the best-yielding cotton year ever on our farm, with an average of 1,325 pounds. I think the increases we’ve seen in recent years have been due to a number of factors — the excellent varieties available to growers, our doing a better job of irrigation, more effective defoliants, and better, more efficient equipment.
“I’ve been fortunate to have witnessed some of the major evolutions in cotton production and ginning — from cotton trailers to module builders to the new module builder pickers. In the early days of module builders, I think we were the first in this area to actually put cotton modules on the ground instead of on pallets. It happened because we had a good cotton year and a long harvest, and we ran out of pallets for the modules.
“I asked Joe McCann, who was a cotton gin equipment salesman, if we could put them on the ground, and he said yes. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘but then can we get them off the ground?’ I telephoned Barry Reynolds out in Texas — he developed the module retriever — and he said he had a relift machine down in Louisiana that he would send to us, along with two men to show us how to use it. If we liked it, he said, it was $25,000, and if we didn’t, we could send it back. It worked fine, and we kept it.