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Ingenious Industry: The Ginning Industry’s Battle to Process Round Bales

by Aubry Heinrich

Editor’s Note: A lot has changed since John Deere introduced its round bale-building stripper in 2014. The all-in-one harvester technology is the sole offering from the manufacturer and accounts for well over half of all equipment in use. We talked to cotton gin managers to learn how they handle old versus new technology.

“I don’t think any gin has a problem adapting to something. Much like our producers, we are just so ingenious,” said Larry Black, Central Rolling Plains Co-op Gin Manager. “When you throw a problem at us, we can solve it; somehow, someway, we will figure out a way to take care of it and try to do it as efficiently and economically as possible. The game keeps changing. That’s the hardest part, but we have adapted.”

Cotton gins are adapting to modern harvest technology of all-in-one, round bale machines such as John Deere’s CS770. The logistical differences between ginning conventional modules and round bales require gins to develop their own efficient methods of processing both types.

Getting the round bales from the field to the gin requires creativity. The shape, size, and plastic wrap aren’t designed for conventional module-hauling trucks. According to Black, developing plastic-friendly chains that don’t tear the wrap during loading and unloading was essential to maintain the bales’ integrity. Keeping the wrap intact helps the gin minimize contamination.

“John Deere has now introduced a machine that produces a larger module,” Black explained. “We have a couple of CS770 machines, and those bales have not caused us a problem yet. But, the producers have not made the bales as big as they can just yet, either. That’s causing issues because they don’t fit in the module truck. If you put them in the truck, they tear the plastic up on the side wall. It will then move on to breaking the module, and the chances for contamination are huge.”

Some gins have chosen to forego the traditional module trucks altogether and use a different method for hauling their producers’ round bales – flatbeds.

“We’ve selected to go away from most module trucks,” said Craig Rohrbach, Parmer County Cotton Growers Gin Manager. “If you elect to do that, you are hauling them on flatbeds, which is a lot less expensive unit, and you are bringing in two and a half times the cotton.”

Like any module, once the bales have made it to the gin, they will be stored on the yard until they are ready to be ginned. The plastic wrap around the bales is designed to provide weather protection while they wait. The round bales give gins and producers an advantage because plastic wrap offers security.

“The round bales are becoming a little more favored,” Black said. “Simply because they will stay drier. If they stay drier, that is less fuel the gin has to use to dry the cotton.”

“One thing I love about the plastics is there are no tarps that blow off,” Rohrbach said. “You don’t lose cotton. If it does rain, it’s protected better than it ever has been. So, if the farmer harvests it dry, it is a huge advantage, and you don’t have to be as concerned about it sitting for a number of weeks on big years.”

While the wrap has advantages, plastic contamination has been an enormous hurdle for gins to jump in processing round bales. Nicks and tears of the protective wrap can flow through the gin and contaminate the cotton. Gins have implemented module unwrappers to aid in removing the plastic wrap safely and effectively.

“We elected to install a new style of unwrapper that allows us to load the round modules with the round side first. This new equipment eliminates a lot of contamination because the plastic is removed all in one sheet,” said Rohrbach. “We don’t have little pieces of plastic that get cut in the wrong spot or have to take them off. When you take the wrap off, the loose cotton falls right onto your module feeder. It’s cleaner, and you don’t have to have people sweeping the whole time. It prevented me from having to add another person on our module feeder, so we saved labor. The new unwrapper allows us to be more consistent with less horsepower.”

There are multiple bale unwrapper designs on the market for gins. Some man- agers have decided to include additional equipment such as a double posi-flow on their module feeder to accompany their unwrapper, allowing a continuous flow of cotton into the gin.

Modernization comes at a price. Equipment such as bale unwrappers and metering systems are expensive. While co-op gins strive to be as efficient as possible, the costs of adaptation are unavoidable as more producers implement round bale machines in their operations.

“The round bales have been a major cost to the gins,” Black said. “We had to change the chains in all the trucks. Our module feeder had to be changed. We in- stalled an opener to remove the plastic from the bale.”

Parmer County Co-op Gin, Central Rolling Plains Co-op Gin, and many other gins aim to bring as much money back into their growers’ pockets as possible at the end of each season.

“It’s pretty simple,” Rohrbach explained, “We try to offset those expenses by doing it more efficiently. By keeping our expenses low, we are ultimately able to return more to our producers.”

Farmers can find comfort in knowing their gins are doing their best to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances and add value to their crop.

“We’re adapting as quickly as possible,” Rohrbach said. “If you are not getting bigger, faster, and more efficient, your costs are going to skyrocket, and you’re not going to be able to pay back to the producer.”