A look inside a modern cotton gin

7 years ago Jeremy Bernfeld Comments Off on A look inside a modern cotton gin

As the days grow shorter and colder, farmers across Kansas are reaping the benefits of a year of hard work. That includes Tom Leahy who runs a cotton farm in southwest Kansas.

“We’re really corn farmers who ran out of water,” Leahy, 60, told me back in May when I chronicled his planting season.

I followed his cotton operation through the growing season and I was there at harvest time. Now, Leahy and other Kansas cotton farmers are getting their cotton ready to sell.

Although the actual farming is done, our cotton adventure doesn't have to end. I followed the scraps of cotton littering the edges of U.S. Highway 56 to the Northwest Cotton Growers Coop Gin in Moscow, Kan., for a tour of the ginning process.

For two months following the growing season, the gin runs full bore. Take a look:


The Northwest Cotton Growers Coop Gin in Moscow, Kan., brings in most of its cotton from farms within an 80-mile radius.


Nine trucks haul modules filled with just-picked cotton from the fields and line them up outside the gin. The number on the bale indicates the field where the cotton was grown.


Gin manager Jerry Stuckey oversees 34 employees and typically works 18-20 hours a day during the ginning season. Since the end of October, the gin has run 24/7, and Stuckey says he hopes to finish up by Christmas.


Pushed along by hot air, it only takes about two minutes for the cotton to go through the entire process of drying, cleaning and baling.


This is the modern equivalent of Eli Whitney’s original cotton gin, separating the cotton fiber from the seeds. The fiber continues on to be baled, while the seeds fall out of the bottom of the gin and make their way to an outside storage shed.


The cotton seeds and fiber aren’t the only usable items. The trash – sticks, leaves and stems picked out during the ginning process – is loaded onto trucks and sold to dairies and feedlots as livestock feed.


After the cotton is ginned, it’s compacted into individual 500-pound bales and tied up. On a good day, the gin will average 55 bales an hour. Stuckey says he expects to gin about 28,000 total bales this year, down more than 5,000 from last year.


A computer system tracks detailed information for each bale and assigns it a bar code that allows the bale to be tracked back to an individual field and producer. Samples from each bale are sent to labs in Abilene, Texas, where the fiber is graded on qualities like strength and fiber length.


Finished bales wait to be driven to the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association warehouse in Liberal, Kan., where Stuckey says they sit until shipping off to more than 10 countries across the world.


Photos and reporting by Eric Durban/Harvest Public Media

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