Huge cotton crop has gins on overtime

“Insane” is the way Sheila Fergason describes this year’s Custer County cotton crop. That’s insane, as in “insanely good.”
Ms. Fergason, bookkeeper for the Midwest Farmers Cotton Gin in Clinton, said early Thursday afternoon the gin had processed 7,465 bales since this year’s harvest started in mid-October. That compared to 5,567 bales on the same date one year earlier, when ginning ended for the 2016 crop.
“And we’re not even halfway done this year,” added Fergason, predicting the 2017 crop won’t all be ginned until possibly May.
“The most we’ve ever done was 6,482 bales in 2011,” she added. “I’ve never seen as much as we’re gonna’ do this year.”
The gin just off U.S. Highway 183 in northeast Clinton was built in 1955, a date in concrete on the grounds indicates.
Fergason said things are so good Gin Manager Rodney Sawatzky now has a crew of 21 working, more than four times his normal crew of five.
“We’re running 10 hours a day six days a week,” she said.
Asked if she and her co-workers got Christmas off, Ms. Fergason replied, “We did. We got off Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Christmas Day). I think Rodney was just getting us all rested up so we’d be good to go.”
One of the local gin’s customers, Isaac Shephard of Butler, said the gin at Burns Flat is running ’round the clock. “They’re running 24 hours a day with three eight-hour shifts,” said Shephard.    
Certified figures from Custer County’s Farm Service Agency indicate Custer County had 11,122 acres planted to cotton this year. In fact, the figures are huge over much of southwestern Oklahoma.
Jackson County, where Altus is located, is the leader with 143,811 acres, about 10,000 more than next-door neighbor Tillman County, which has 133,524 acres. They’re followed by Kiowa County with 44,775; Washita, 41,102; and Garmon, 40,187.
Asked if they’ve gotten a lot of new customers this year, Fergason replied, “The majority of ’em are regulars. They just multiplied their land. I don’t know where they’re finding all this land.”
It must be good land; Shephard said he’s seen some irrigated fields that are producing 3½ bales per acre.   
 Fergason said cotton folks are being innovative too, making use not only of the cotton itself which is left after ginning but also the seeds and burrs. She said Craig Meacham sells the burrs for flower beds. Shephard said they can also be placed in pastures and cattle will feed on them all winter.
Besides being used to birth next year’s crop, the seeds likewise are being sold as cattle feed.
Of course, very few things in life are perfect, and this year’s cotton crop is no exception. Its principal drawback is the price; Shephard, who farms east of Butler in the Barnitz Creek bottom, said the cost of seed for next year’s crop is now $110 a ton. Last year it was $180 and occasionally over $200, he said. That means farmers selling their cotton this year aren’t getting nearly as much for it as they did last year.
Asked if the bitterly cold weather of late can still hurt this year’s cotton, Shepard replied, “If it’s still in the field it needs to be stripped. Frost will bring down the quality and quantity.”
He also had a tip for novice cotton producers who may be becoming round-the-calendar cotton farmers. He said cotton formed into modules after it’s picked should be left by the side of the road so it can be picked up easily and not be in the way when it’s time to plant next year’s crop, since the seed will need to go in the ground in May.
Custer County Extension Director Ron Wright said this year’s crop is pretty much done.
“It’s been a good crop; some of it was late and didn’t have time to get there, but for the most part the cotton’s pretty good,” he said. “Some of the cotton from around here has gone to Burns Flat, some to Carnegie, and some clear to Altus.
“With these modules and round bales, it’s a lot easier to haul cotton long distances. Ginners are buying big trucks too; they’re getting out and hustling the producers trying to get as much cotton for their gins as they can.”
As for yields, Wright said he’s heard from a bale and a quarter to almost four bales per acre. And that’s after it’s ginned. “Yields are based on ginned out cotton,” he said.

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