The current regulatory and legislative climate require that the nation’s farmers and ginners “be even more diligent in monitoring and reacting to the many issues that face our industry,” says Kirk Gilkey, president of the National Cotton Ginners Association.
The Corcoran, Calif., ginner/producer, who spoke at the annual meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at Memphis, says, “It’s important that we all be active” in ginner/agriculture organizations that constitute “our first line of defense in slowing or stopping idiotic legislation.”
Two days he spent with the legislature in California, the nation’s leading agriculture state, “were truly frustrating,” Gilkey says. “Many legislators don’t seem to care whether or not agriculture remains in our state.”
The NCGA is actively involved in a number of issues that could have potential impact on cotton ginning operations, he says, including combustible dust, the H2-A guest worker program, and greenhouse gas emissions.
In doing so, he says, the organization’s committees and advisors will continue to rely heavily on National Cotton Council staff for assistance.
“As ginners, it should be our goal to produce the best quality fiber in the world,” Gilkey says, “and we will continue to work with the USDA Cotton Ginning Laboratories and Cotton Incorporated to insure that quality-related research continues.”
In 2009, NCGA began an initiative to establish a dialogue with foreign mill customers to promote U.S. cotton as “some of the best quality cotton in the world, that we are committed to increasing fiber quality, and that our industry is doing everything possible to meet the needs of our foreign customers.”
As part of that effort, he says, the three ginning labs “will continue to have our full support. With the focus on quality and ginning efficiency, it is imperative for our industry to work to keep these facilities funded adequately so they can continue their valuable work toward keeping us competitive with cotton-producing countries throughout the world.”
The NCGA, Gilkey says, will continue to seek additional funding for the Lubbock, Texas, facility, while maintaining funding levels for the Stoneville, Miss., and Mesilla Park, N.M., labs.
Well-trained gin employees will be increasingly important with technological advances in the industry, he says, and NCGA will continue to enhance educational and instructional programs at the three ginning schools held each year.
“The cotton ginners certification program has continued to grow since its inception in 1992, with over 300 ginners actively participating in the program.”
“We will continue to help and encourage the Cotton Foundation’s funding for gin-related research and for educational project proposals,” Gilkey says. “During the past fiscal year, eight of the projects being funded by the foundation directly or indirectly benefit the ginning industry.”
In the near future, he says, determination of which programs will be funded will again be done by the Cotton Foundation, with NCGA continuing to provide guidance on projects important to ginning.
NCGA continues to oversee the Peary Wilemon Scholarship Foundation, with the aim of establishing partnerships with cotton belt land grant universities to provide scholarships for students in gin or agriculture-related programs.
“Over the past few years, several of these scholarship recipients have been involved in research that has had a direct impact on our industry,” Gilkey says. “We must establish relationships early with future researchers, and this program allows us to do that.”
Cottonseed is “the lifeblood of many gins,” he says, and “while demand for cottonseed oil and whole cottonseed remains strong, ginners must be mindful of contracts and market conditions. This is especially important as dairies struggle to become profitable.”
With the national emphasis on alternative fuels, Gilkey says, the NCGA “is working to promote research on the use of gin wastes as feedstock for ethanol and other biofuels.”
The organization’s Air Quality Subcommittee is following a number of issues that range from current implementation of regulations to climate change legislation.
“Two years ago, it was decided that our industry should develop a plan to accurately measure emissions from cotton gins across the belt, and testing will continue this fall, with sampling to take place at facilities in Texas and Missouri.”
The NCGA completed in 2009 the review and editing of all safety materials, including videos, Gilkey notes. “But, we continue to look ahead to other areas where we can do even more to keep our workers safe. One of those areas will be to develop appropriate safety materials and procedures for handling, unloading, and unwrapping round modules from the new on-board module systems.”
With the assistance of a labor attorney, the NCGA was able to prevail in resolving a misinterpretation by a Department of Labor district office of a long-standing partial overtime exemption used by ginners.
“Had we not intervened, many of our gins in Texas and New Mexico would have been required to pay two years’ back wages on overtime hours, based on the Department of Labor’s flawed interpretation,” Gilkey says. “There was also the fear this interpretation would spread to other district offices across the belt.
“Tim Price, Larry Davis, and SCGA staff and members offered valuable assistance with pertinent documents to help us make our case and with legal expenses.”
In coming months, Gilkey says, the NCGA is expecting the immigration debate to heat up, and the ag jobs bill “may be the vehicle used in that debate.”
A number of transportation issues, including rail legislation, are in process that will “hopefully lead to more competitive rail rates, which could have an indirect effect on rates for shipping cottonseed.”
While agriculture has benefited from the agricultural exemption in the transportation bill making its way through Congress, “There are groups working to eliminate this position,” Gilkey says. “We’re working with the National Cotton Council to help retain this important exemption.”
Food safety legislation that has passed the House and is being developed in the Senate will be monitored closely to try and insure that it “has as little impact as possible on gins.”