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Plains Cotton Cooperative Association

Sowing the Seeds of the Future

Producers look on during Farmers Cooperative Compress' tour of its cotton warehouses.
Producers look on during Farmers Cooperative Compress' tour of its cotton warehouses.

It all started with farmers. Farmers who were searching for stability in an uncertain cotton market and thirsting for the knowledge to run their operations more efficiently. It started with farmers wanting to have the courage to start all over “come planting time” and sow the small cotton seeds that would largely determine their future. It started with farmers recognizing that in order for the cotton industry to survive, it has to be passed on to the next generation.

Cooperatives all started with farmers. Likewise, the Cooperative Producer Orientation, hosted by Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, Farmers Cooperative Compress and PYCO Industries Inc., started because of the need to educate High Plains cotton farmers on the regional cotton cooperative system headquartered in Lubbock, Texas.

Cooperatives, whether ginning, marketing, warehousing, or cottonseed processing, enable cotton growers to keep their farming operations stable even when the volatile market, like a wolf at the door, threatens to devour their life’s work in seconds. To do so, any profit each cooperative makes is returned to its grower-owners in the form of monetary dividends.

Lincoln Devault, an orientation attendee and 2015 agricultural economics graduate of Texas Tech, commented on the importance of the dividends cooperatives provide farmers.

“If you don’t have a profit, a lot of these farmers aren’t going to be able to make it, so that is pretty important,” Devault said.

The annual orientation featured 46 farmers and their spouses from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico. The attendees were educated on each phase of the cooperative system, or level of the supply chain as industry leaders call it, and how the legacy of farming is preserved in each. In doing so, the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock continually sow the seeds of the future by educating their grower and gin owners.

Devault said he is currently keeping his family’s near 100-year tradition of farming going with help from cooperatives.

“Pretty much my whole life I wanted to come back and farm on the family farm,” Devault said. “The No. 1 important thing for us is to be able to market our cotton at the highest price possible, and the only way for us to do that is to stick together in coops.”

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The 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation featured the largest number of attendees since the program’s creation.

Working Toward a Common Goal at PCCA

The theme of “sticking together” is how Plains Cotton Cooperative Association began the orientation event. The marketing cooperative provided an overview of its rich history, services, and marketing strategies that blend together to help producers get the best possible price for their cotton. The cooperative, which is one of the largest cotton marketing organizations in the world, was founded in 1953 by producers across the High Plains of Texas and has since led the industry in innovation and service. PCCA currently serves an estimated 9,000 grower-owners across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Devault said PCCA’s presentation began with an explanation of the value of being a coop member.

“The first thing they did was go into the benefits of being part of the coop,” he said, “which is how a group of farmers that are like-minded come together and work toward one common goal, which is putting more money back into the farmer’s pocket.”

It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going. Lincoln Devault

Harvesting Profit at FCC

Following the presentation from PCCA, attendees had a working lunch at Farmers Cooperative Compress. The warehousing regional cooperative followed suit with its presentation and provided an overview of its history, services, and even included a tour of its cotton warehouses. In 1948, producers came together to resolve the issue of cotton storage on the High Plains, thus creating Farmer Cooperative Compress. Today, the cooperative has 208 warehouses, 7,000 members, and a USDA licensed capacity to store over 2.2 million bales of cotton. The cooperative recently celebrated a milestone in returning $1 billion back in dividends to its members since its establishment.

Orientation attendees also were provided a tour through the cotton warehouses, which were full of cotton bales from the 2016-2017 cotton crop’s unexpectedly high yields.

Travis McCallister, a new cotton farmer and 2014 Texas Tech agricultural economics masters graduate, said it was very educational to view the operations at Farmers Cooperative Compress.

“My favorite thing about going to the compress was going out in the warehouses and getting to see the production of how they move cotton in and cotton bales out and ship those,” McCallister said. “It was really interesting to see the production of it all.”

After a brief question and answer session in the cotton warehouses at Farmers Cooperative Compress, attendees traveled to PYCO Industries Inc.

Extracting Value at PYCO

PYCO Industries Inc., shared its history and an overview of its services and procedures prior to the tour of its facilities. The oil mill, which was established in 1936, is the oldest of the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock and is the largest cottonseed cooperative in the southern United States. The cooperative is also owned by cotton gins, rather than cotton growers like PCCA and Farmers Cooperative Compress.

PYCO Industries Inc. currently serves 60 member-gins and processes cottonseed from those gins to extract and refine cottonseed oil for cooking in various forms, as well as cottonseed byproducts, including cottonseed meal, hulls, and linters.

Cooperative Producer Orientation attendees had the opportunity to take a walking tour through the oil mill facilities to see every part of the operation possible, including real examples of the products and byproducts that result from processing the seed.

Devault noted the tour of PYCO Industries Inc., and its complex operations served as a valuable learning experience.

“A cotton plant is one of the most diverse plants as far as the amount of products that can come out of it,” he said. “It was really interesting to see how they develop all the different products that they sell and what they are used for.”

The tour of PYCO Industries Inc., concluded the 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation.

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Orientation attendees took a walking tour through the facilities at PYCO Industries, Inc.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF PRODUCERS

Devault and McCallister, both young producers, cooperative members, and former Red Raiders, said their takeaways from the event were second to none.
“I now have a vested interest in not only the cotton I grow here, but also getting it to the consumer in the cheapest way, and that turns me back more money,” McCallister said. “It allows my operation to have a wider reach than what it would if I was just taking it to the gin and selling it and if I didn’t have anything invested in it further down the supply chain.”

Devault echoed McCallister’s comments.

“Anytime you get a chance to visit a coop that you are a part of or that you are thinking about going into, you should jump on it,” Devault said. “You are going to learn something, and the more young farmers my age can get out and see what these coops are about the better it is going to be. It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going.”

Staying on Track

Round cotton modules ready to be picked up by module trucks. Photo Credit: Jayci Cave

Plains Cotton Cooperative Association is improving technological innovations in the cotton industry. Most recently, PCCA has developed a module tracking and module truck tracking system to help ginning operations run more efficient.

In the past, there was a problem tracking cotton modules from the field to the cotton gin, and farmers were often unaware when the gins picked up their modules or when their cotton was ginned. Many times, farmers would have to go to the gin to ask where their modules were in the ginning process, and the gin personnel couldn’t answer their questions.

Cotton gins also had a difficult time knowing where their truck drivers were or if they were in the right location to pick up modules. Gins would hand their truck drivers huge paper maps of where a farmer’s cotton module was located, but they weren’t given clear directions on how to get there. This made it really difficult for truck drivers to find a module, which sometimes resulted in them becoming lost and having to call the farmer or gin to ask the location of their cotton modules.

All of this resulted in cotton gins losing time and money. Gins spend thousand of dollars a day to operate, and when a truck driver can’t deliver modules to the gin yard in a timely manner, they lose money.

In 2013, Ocho Gin located in Gaines County, Texas, was looking for a solution to the problems they were experiencing, so they approached PCCA for a solution. PCCA immediately began developing a software program called Module Tracking that could finally help Ocho Gin solve their problems locating a farmer’s cotton modules.

PCCA Applications Programmer, John Duncan, graduated from Texas Tech University with a computer science degree and played a major role working on the Ocho Gin project.

“Before module tracking, it wasn’t very user friendly.”

Duncan and a team of programmers decided they wanted to provide a way for gins to track their modules from the field until it was ginned. Before, gins would keep module information from the field to the gin on spreadsheets or even paper.

“When you are ginning 40,000 to 50,000 bales of cotton, that kind of thing is hard to keep track of on just spreadsheets,” said Duncan.

When a farmer calls in his modules, gin personnel can then log in to the web-based program and enter the farmer’s modules into a call-in screen. The farmer can now use an online form on their smartphone to log their call-in instead of having to actually call the gin and show their GPS location. As a result, gin personnel can use the mapping software to easily identify farms.

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Module truck dropping off round cotton modules at Lubbock Cotton Growers.

Duncan and the programmers also integrated their module tracking software directly with the existing truck scale systems at gins to allow better management of modules on the gin yard. With this benefit, gin personnel can now tell farmers exactly where their cotton modules are in the ginning process.

After the success of the module tracking software, Central Rolling Plains Gin in Roscoe, Texas, approached PCCA and asked if there was a way to create a module truck tracking software that integrated with their current module tracking program. Duncan and his team decided to start integrating a module truck tracking software with their current module tracking program. They decided to add the ability for gins to be able to track their module trucks wherever they were and dispatch their truck drivers to a field instead of using a piece of paper. Giving truck drivers an onboard tablet allowed them to receive the GPS location of cotton modules in a field by using the module tracking software. The gin would send the location information to the truck drivers on the tablet, and all they have to do is use the tablet for directions.

“The drivers get a list of accounts to go to and how many modules there are on that account,” Duncan adds. “Then it shows up on their tablet in the order that the gins want them to go pick them up. As the drivers come in and weigh the modules in, they come off of their list.”

When PCCA came and stepped in and took over some of our problems with tracking modules, it really simplified the way it looks for us in the office. Jerry Butman

Module truck tracking makes it more efficient and effective for both the truck drivers and the gin. With module truck tracking now in place, gins know exactly where truck drivers are at all times and can make sure they are staying on task and on course while they are working. The module truck tracking also helps drivers know exactly where they need to be going when they are trying to locate a field and not become lost.

Lubbock Cotton Growers Gin Manager, Jerry Butman, has really enjoyed PCCA’s new module tracking software.

“When PCCA came and stepped in and took over some of our problems with tracking modules, it really simplified the way it looks for us in the office,” Butman said. “Some of the editing we have to do on the bale counting side just really made that easier…a lot of reports PCCA developed in their program are very easy to run.”

Prior to PCCA providing their module tracking software at Lubbock Cotton Growers, Butman and his gin personnel had to run other programs that were not as user-friendly. According to Butman, they had to set up their own parameters and other programs to just run a module and bale report.

“PCCA’s new module tracking software is user friendly and easy to operate and real easy for our staff to pick up and learn,” Butman adds.

Module tracking also has helped farmers in some ways; they can easily use an app when they are ready to call in their modules.

“When we accept a farmers call-in through the PCCA Member Access app it automatically generates a text back to them, giving them the module numbers we want them to put on the modules themselves. It will also tell the farmers how many modules will be ginned before theirs and so much more information,” Butman said.

Ocho Gin was the first gin to successfully run the module-tracking software in 2012 that Duncan and other programmers helped create. Other gins quickly began following in their footsteps to run the module and truck tracking programs. There are now 44 gins that are using the module-tracking software, and 11 gins that are using the module truck tracking software. Module tracking is a fast growing software, and PCCA plans to work on module tracking projects and other technological advances with John Deere in the future.

“We’ve actually started a project with John Deere. John Deere’s have made some advancements in their harvesters…We actually have already got where if you use a John Deere harvester you can make your call-in automatically into the gin, Duncan said. “Where we’re trying to push John Deere and ourselves is to tie that module with the location the harvester went in the field. Once you’ve done that you can actually tie a bale of cotton to specifically where it came from in your cotton field.”

Gins in the South Plains area could be using module and truck tracking software sometime in the future, which will revolutionize the cotton industry.

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