ROSS REILY: A new day may be dawning for Mississippi cotton

May 25, 2012

Business

When construction began a couple of weeks ago on a $6.5 million cotton gin in Noxubee County, it may have signaled a change in Mississippi agriculture that experts have been pointing to nationally for more than a year.

Bogue Chitto Gin Inc. was created by a group of 25 cotton farmers from Aliceville, Ala., and from Lowndes, Clay and Noxubee counties in Mississippi.

The project will create four full-time jobs and 20 to 25 temporary jobs, during harvest season.

“There haven’t been any new gins built in Mississippi in a long time,” Mast said. “We have been hauling our cotton 50 to 100 miles to have it ginned. A new gin will give us a better product, as well. This will put more money back in the farmer’s pocket.”

It makes sense, cotton has been making a comeback for a while now.

Making the connection

As I waited at Sal and Mookie’s in Jackson for my pizza to take home to the family, I sat down with a soft drink and reached into a bowl of nuts. … Not peanuts, but chickpeas. … It reminded me of the story I read in “Time” about cotton.

While we have been writing off the South’s cash crop for the last decade or more, it appears scientists have been having other ideas.

According the “Time” article, “It’s as true in today’s world as it was in the antebellum South: cotton is king.”

Could it be?

Well, for more than 7,000 cotton has mostly been used for its fiber. Apparently, however, cotton seed is rich in protein. And protein could help feed lots of people, right?

Yup, except cotton has a chemical in it that is toxic. The toxic “gossypol” actually helps repel insects from the plant while it is growing. You remove the gossypol, you remove any chance of having cotton in the first place.

Until now.

Scientists, according to this article, have found a way to remove the toxic chemical, yet preserve the insect-fighting abilities.

So, now you could have a “Cheap and an abundant form of protein for everyone.”

Great for the South, right?

Great for Mississippi right?

More cotton demand, means higher prices, which means better times for farmers, which might even mean better times for the Delta and Southwest Mississippi, right?

My only question is, did we get away from cotton too soon? Do we still have the infrastructure (cotton gins) to take on a heavy demand for cotton again?

Ginning again

The new gin in Noxubee separates the leaf trash, seeds and stems from the cotton, leaving a pure product. The seeds are kept and sold for cattle feed and cooking oil.

“At one time Noxubee County was the leading cotton-producing county in the state. We’ve had a history of producing cotton,” says Dennis Reginelli, of the Mississippi State University Extension Office.

“Things changed for a while and the farmers went with soybeans. We’ve always had a few farmers who had stable cotton crops and in the early 1990s, more people started planting cotton. In the last couple of years, cotton production has really taken off, based on commodity sales. I would say there is probably about 20,000 acres of cotton in Noxubee County and south Lowndes County,” he said.

Once the cotton grows to maturity, it is harvested, usually beginning around the first of September through mid-October.

What’s ahead

I don’t know have all the answers, but as I sat at Sal and Mookie’s, I thought about that last paragraph of the story in time, which read, “Genetically modified cottonseeds will need government approval before they hit grocery shelves, and they’re more likely to be used first to supplement fish or animal feed. But with the global population still on the rise and farmland limited, the planet can use free protein. And you might even like it. “It’s not bad,” says (the scientist that made this cotton-seed discovery), who has popped a few seeds. “Tastes like chickpeas.”

 >> Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018

, , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “ROSS REILY: A new day may be dawning for Mississippi cotton”

  1. Boogie Says:

    As Mr. Reily stated, hopefully we haven’t lost the infrastructure to sustain cotton growth in Mississippi. The only thing I wonder about is the price effects of additional demand on cotton seeds. Couldn’t higher demand drive up the price, and therefore making already overpriced blue jeans even more onerous?

    Good article.

  2. sunflower oil Says:

    I’m interested in planting sunflowers and I wanted to find out how much sunflower oil one can expect from an acre? A rough estimate is fine.

  3. sunflower oil Says:

    What happened to the sunflower oil? I use it to make soap. Does anybody know if canola oil are another oil can be substituted? Olive oil is great, but is way too expensive!
    I’m not asking about eating the stuff! I’m making SOAP! Sunflower oil works great mixed with lye and water to make SOAP! I know olive oil is great for your body (it’s the only oil I eat).

Leave a Reply