Rector Cotton Ginner Earns Prestigious Award

Thursday, March 5, 2015
It was a great occasion Thursday night at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis when Gregg Sain of Rector received the prestigious SCGA Ginner of the Year award. Family members there to congratulate him were, from left: daughter Seanne Farrar, his mother Neda Sain, wife Ginger and son Chase. There are more than 600 gins in the SCGA region of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.(courtesy photo)

Cotton traditionally has been "king" in Mid-South agriculture and reigning over the processing aspect of the crop in 2015 is Rector's own Gregg Sain.

Sain was named SCGA Ginner of the Year at the organization's annual banquet Thursday night at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

The Southern Cotton Ginners Association award covers the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Louisiana and involves more than 600 operations.

Ginning cotton is a family affair at Graves Gin at Hargrave Corner and Graves Kennett Gin. Owners in front of the gin operation are the daughters of the late Jimmie Graves, from left: Teresa Frankel, Pam Bronson and Ginger Graves, with award winner Gregg Sain.

"It was a great honor for me to get the award," said Sain, who received the recognition in the presence of his close-knit family which has long-term Rector ties.

The award relates to his work at both the Graves Gin at Hargrave Corner, east of Rector, and the Graves Kennett Gin in Dunklin County, Mo.

Sain was born and raised in Rector and his mother, Neda Sain, has lived here her entire life.

"My father (Glen) moved here in 1954," Sain told the Delta Farm Press. "I know that because this year they're celebrating 60 years of the car dealership being open -- my sister, Gail Ford, and her husband, Danny, own that now."

Sain is entering his 28th crop year following his initial association with his late father-in-law, James W. Graves.

Known to everyone as Jimmie Graves, he bought his first gin at Leonard in 1952 at the age of 22. Years later Graves went into partnership with Lynn Poe in the gin at Kennett and then with Ralph and Bill Hayes at the Hargrave Corner facility.

Sain and Graves' daughter Ginger both graduated from Rector High School and attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. They married in 1986 and Sain earned a degree in accounting in 1987. He was preparing to take the CPA exam when Graves asked him to manage his company's grain elevator in Rector.

Thus began Sain's agricultural career that has spanned almost three decades and included a lot of early on-the-job training.

Following Graves' death in 1994, his three daughters -- Ginger, Teresa Frankel of Rector and Pam Bronson of Memphis -- assumed ownership of the company and that included a working relationship with the other ginning partners.

As it turned out, the Graves sisters, after several years of successful and amicable partnership, bought out the Hayes and Poe interests in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

"At 30 years of age, Gregg was thrown into this," Ginger told the Delta Farm Press, "and we depended on him to keep it going. It turned out that those six years of Gregg working with Daddy was a huge deal -- and he'd been paying attention. I'm very proud of him -- he's been fearless. One of the reasons he's been successful at this is his willingness to do anything the business requires: he'll shovel, load trucks, drive trucks, anything."

The Sains' son Chase has continued in the family operation. He is responsible for pulling soil samples in the fertilizer division for grid sampling. He also is the CPS representative and makes seed recommendations for farmers. He and his wife Bridget, a public school teacher, live in Rector. He is a graduate of Arkansas State University.

Daughter Seanne Farrar (husband Tyler) is a teacher and high school counselor in Northwest Arkansas. She followed her parents as a graduate of the U of A.

The Sains have been active members of the First United Methodist Church in Rector. He also served on the Rector School Board and both have been strong supporters of the Rector Helping Hands Foundation.

Cotton Mystique

Sain agrees there is something special about growing and ginning cotton -- a mystique that sets it apart from other crops.

"I remember one veteran farmer saying at an earlier Mid-South Farm and Gin Show that, first of all, you have to really WANT to grow cotton," Sain said.

"One thing that sets it apart is the way it helps the entire community. Other commodities are simply grown and shipped out. With cotton, it's kind of like a circle in the way it employs more people and can help an area economically."

On a personal level, Sain said it is "a lot of fun" to be involved with the ginning business, despite some of the pressures and the threats to the industry.

"With the improvements we have made, we are now at the point where we can gin 1,000 bales a day. To see those improvements take place is a very satisfying thing. It gives a real sense of accomplishment.

"There are times when you look at all the cotton coming in and you think we'll never get it done, but we have been able to improve efficiency, get our ginning operation up to modern standards and keep the quality up. It's a great day when you gin that last module. This is a business where there is a definite and clear start and finish."

The two gins average about 44,000 bales a season. The Kennett gin runs a Double Eagle 141 with a Murray press, averaging 16 bales an hour. The Hargrave gin had a Lummus press installed in 2012 and now averages 33 bales an hour.

A recent major improvement was the construction of a large cottonseed shed at Hargrave Corner, which helps provide flexibility to the operation.

Sain credits his experienced crew for the success of the operation, with Dennis Adams managing the Hargrave facility and Curtis Kemp overseeing the Kennett gin.

Other key employees are Bruce Benson, Scott and Barbi Anderson, Daniel Cabrera and Scott and Ami Stirnaman.

Sain said safety guidelines and reporting under the direction of office manager Barbi Anderson and assistant Ami Stirnaman were a key factor in his receiving the Ginner of the Year honor.

Sain really appreciates their commitment to improving company safety. "Ginning has traditionally been a very dangerous business. "When you finish the year and no one is hurt, that is the first thing to be thankful for."

After several years of favorable production and pricing, Sain said area cotton farmers and ginners are facing significant threats on the horizon.

Among the factors he cited are prices in the 65 cents range (when 75 cents is considered the break-even point), the end to direct support to farmers and exclusion of cotton in the current farm bill (based on what Sain terms a wrong-headed U.S. concession on a World Trade Organization lawsuit).

Chinese Surplus

Sain said the biggest factor in the market conditions of cotton relates to actions by China. He said China made a decision to develop a stockpile of cotton and began large-scale buying of the commodity. That reached a peak in 2011 and was the key to $1 cotton prices received by area farmers (some sold as high as $1.35, he said).

Now, China has 60 million bales of cotton in surplus and the situation has been reversed, leading to much lower prices. Sain said in a video interview at the Memphis show that the United States is making a mistake in not also buying cotton to help provide a potentially-needed stockpile while also improving the price situation.

In looking at the overall world cotton scene, China and India now rank one-two in production with the United States third. "I really think there is a chance that in three to five years there may not be cotton in our part of the world," Sain said. "Half of the world's cotton is hand-picked (with negligible labor costs) and our cost of production is out of sync with the rest of the world."

The result of all these factors is that Sain anticipates roughly a 25 percent decline in the amount of cotton planted in this area in 2015. The only mitigating factor is that yields could improve when farmers eliminate less productive cotton land as they cut back.

Sain said that, if some positive factors prevail, his operation could gin in the range of 30,000 bales in this season.

He told the Delta Farm Press "this is the most perilous time for cotton" he has seen in his ginning career. "We've been losing cotton gins for years, but not at the current pace. There are six gins within 50 miles of here that may close this year."

One potential hope for the near future is increased production. Some of the best cotton-producing land anywhere is found in this area of Arkansas and the Bootheel of Missouri.

"Farmers have been disappointed with the cotton yield the last two years," Sain said, with the hope that it can improve going forward. "That's what needs to happen.

"I've seen some 1,800 pound cotton and there is talk of a 2,000 pound club," he said. "There is hope that with outstanding production we can survive these difficult times ahead."

He pointed out that cotton virtually disappeared in this area in the past only to rise again. The boll weevil eradication program proved to be the lifesaver for this region. "There were a lot of naysayers concerning the program, but it worked." The only area with any weevils at present is along the Texas-Mexico border.

During his video comments at the Memphis show, Sain effectively and forcefully stressed the importance of buying 100 percent cotton apparel. He said that, in the end, that will do more to help the industry and the local agricultural economy than any other step.

"Why would you want to be wearing polyester when you could be wearing 100 percent cotton?" he asks. Sain encourages shoppers to look at the label when buying. In addition to the comfort factor, he said cotton is much friendlier to the environment than petroleum-based polyester.

Sain said that, of all the things he learned and experienced at the four-day show, the importance of marketing cotton as environmentally and economically valuable to the United States really stood out.

The Delta Farm Press article featuring the Ginner of the Year was headlined -- "Gregg Sain: A winding path to success."

Those who have observed the history and trends in American agriculture realize there indeed are many turns in the road, ups and downs along the way. Those involved in cotton production and ginning know there have been a multitude of bumps and barriers and sometimes even times when it appeared the vehicle might go off a cliff.

Despite those setbacks in the past and challenges in the future, there is hope that while cotton may never again be "king," the potentially positive factors cited by Gregg Sain will come to the forefront and continue to position the crop as a key cog in agricultural success in this region.

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