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Carroll Cotton Co Secures Cotton Future in Region

Local family owned and operated business, Carroll Cotton Co, is embarking on a major upgrade project which will increase cotton ginning production and increase the speed of the ginning process - maximising return on investment for growers in the region.

Owners of Carroll Cotton Co, Scott and Trudy Davies, met with Gunnedah Shire Council last week to discuss the final details of a Development Application that will result in a major infrastructure upgrade to their Carroll based gin in 2017.

“Our team at Carroll Cotton Co have been working on this upgrade project for the past twelve months and we are excited to finally announce our future plans,” Carroll Cotton Co General Manager, Scott Davies said.

“We have invested considerable resources into research and development modelled on global best practice methods and world class technologies, and expect that the upgrade to Carroll Cotton Co will result in the capacity to produce 175,000 ginned cotton bales onsite annually. This is an improvement in our production – meaning greater capacity to move more cotton through our facility, faster.”

Carroll Cotton Co has been operating in the Upper Namoi Cotton region for over 20 years, and is anticipating another prosperous year for cotton in 2017.

“Our 2017 ginning season is expected to be one of our biggest seasons to date – and the upgrade will have little to no impact on our processing practices during the 2017 season. Our clients can rest assured that we will continue to deliver the high-quality turnouts that they know and expect from Carroll Cotton Co.”

The upgrade to Carroll Cotton Co is a solid investment in the Gunnedah Shire economy with the financial value of cotton processed in the shire flowing throughout the entire economy from local primary producers to manufacturing industries and beyond.

“The increase in our production will significantly drive the Gunnedah Shire economy as the annual market value of cotton able to be processed by Carroll Cotton Co will grow from $65M to $110M,” Mr Davies said. “We believe in the future of the cotton industry in our district and believe this infrastructure investment will continue to secure our districts reputation as a developing cotton producing region.” President of the Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce, Michael Brockman, welcomed the announcement.

“Carroll Cotton Co has been a stalwart in the Gunnedah Shire business community since 1995, first with gin founder Sam Davies and now under the stewardship of Sam’s son Scott, Trudy and their young family. The confidence that Scott and Trudy have shown in further investing in the Gunnedah economy and the farming practices of cotton producers is to be applauded and I wish the Carroll Cotton Co team every success with the roll out of their venture.”

The Development Application will be submitted to Gunnedah Shire Council in the first quarter of 2017, with community feedback encouraged as part of the Public Exhibition period.

The infrastructure upgrade to Carroll Cotton Co is due for completion in time for the 2018 cotton season.

For more information please contact Carroll Cotton Co’s General Manager Scott Davies on 6744 5282 or email admin@carrollcotton.com.au .

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Cotton ginner: Scott Davies

Scott Davies is processing a record crop but struggling to find workers to keep his family's cotton gin in Carroll, in Northern NSW, operational. After a decade of drought, the dams are full, prices are high and cotton is booming. But the industry, like many others in rural Australia, now faces a drought of another kind: a chronic shortage of reliable labour. The two-speed economy may be squeezing manufacturers through the rising dollar but farmers say the resources boom is also sapping their workforce, making it harder for them to get back on their feet after the dry.

More than four million bales of cotton are expected to be picked this year - the biggest harvest on record. But Scott Davies, who manages his family's cotton gin outside the village of Carroll in northern NSW, has struggled to find enough workers to keep the plant running.

"We've hired 42 seasonal staff this year for 16 positions - we've nearly had to hire the same workforce three times," he said.
Mr Davies said his family's gin was processing 2 1/2 times the volume of cotton it did last year.

National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie said a labour shortage was one of the most critical challenges farmers faced. He estimated an extra 100,000 workers would be needed to bring agricultural production back up to pre-drought levels. Adam Marshall, the Mayor of Gunnedah, a town about 20km west of Carroll, said competition for skilled labour was intense, and farmers could not compete with miners on wages.

"It's an issue that we are trying to grapple with as a community - trying to get mining companies to take more cleanskins and train them, rather than poaching people from the agriculture sector," he said.

He said the lure of high starting wages, even for menial jobs, was also discouraging youngsters from developing skills outside the mining sector. Danny Tickle, head ginner at Mr Davies' plant, said too many workers had quit the cotton industry during the drought.

"It's much harder now to find those seasonal workers who are reliable and come back from year to year," he said. Mr Tickle said fewer Australians were prepared to work the 84-hour week in tough conditions.

Mr Davies currently employs four working-holidaymakers from Taiwan. He said seasonal cotton workers could earn about $2500 a week gross, and that foreign staff were often more committed than locals.

Picture: James Croucher Source: The Australian

The history of the cotton gin

In 1794, US-born inventor Eli Whitney patented one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution, the “Little Cotton Engine”; this name was quickly abbreviated to cotton “gin” – short for engine.

Whitney’s machine revolutionised the production of cotton by greatly speeding up the process of removing seeds from cotton fibre, and by the mid-19th century, cotton had become America’s leading export.

Whitney, a talented mechanic and inventor, headed to South Carolina in 1793, after graduating from Yale. He originally planned to work as a private tutor, but after these plans did not come to fruition, accepted an invitation to stay with Catherine Greene, the widow of an American Revolutionary War general, on her plantation ‘Mulberry Grove’, near Savannah, Georgia.

It was on the Greene property that Whitney learned about cotton production, and in particular, the difficulty farmers faced making a living out of labour-intensive short-staple cotton, a practically useless green seed variety, which had to be cleaned painstakingly by hand, one plant at a time. The average cotton picker could only remove the seeds from about one pound of short-staple cotton per day, and the plant was considered little more than a weed.

Whitney watched the cotton cleaning, and having studied the hand movements, designed a machine that simply duplicated those movements. Whitney’s machine was able to quickly and efficiently clean the cotton using a system of hooks, wires and a rotating brush; that was all there was to Whitney's cotton gin, and it never became any more complicated.

Smaller gins could be cranked by hand, larger ones could be powered firstly by a horse, and later by a steam engine. Even Whitney’s hand-cranked machine could remove the seeds from 50 pounds of cotton in a single day…. and the rest, as they say, is history!

Ginning industrial hemp

An industrial hemp producer says marijuana growers aren't happy about his ongoing trials across eastern Australia. Hemp is grown for seeds, oil and fibre, and, while it belongs to the same species, is a different variety to the drug plant, marijuana. Phil Warner, from EcoFibre Industries, says marijuana contains the psychoactive chemical THC but hemp doesn't, and that makes his industrial hemp research unpopular. He says drug growers are concerned that the pollen from the hemp will contaminate their high THC crops, reducing their virility. "We've been pushed out of areas because the industrial hemp affects all of the open grown marijuana and depletes it. They don't like us because the pollen spread of the industrial hemp will invade the dope grown up in the bush at least five kilometres away."

Mr Warner has been trialling many cultivars of industrial hemp in various locations across the country from far north Queensland to southern Tasmania in an attempt to identify which varieties do best, under what conditions, and where the best hemp growing areas are. He says it's a great fibre crop that can be used to make a range of products including insulation, plastic and fabrics, and is best grown under irrigation here in Australia, on well drained soils. Once established, it's a hardy crop. "After about eight weeks it'll be around your waist. After that, it shoots away and gets up to four metres in the next two and a half months. It matures in late February and that's when you harvest it."

After harvesting the hemp is processed and the fibre (bast) and the hemp's interior pith (hurd) is separated. However, there aren't any hemp processing mills in Australia, so trials are underway to find the best processing method. Mr Warner has enlisted the use of a cotton gin at Carroll in northern New South Wales to see if using a gin to process harvested hemp is viable. "The cotton gin is not designed for hemp, but it we can produce a good saleable product then we use basically everything from the module-making equipment right through to the ginning process."

Scott Davies, manager of the cotton gin at Carroll, says he's not too worried about opening his gin up to the cannabis crop, because it has similar properties to cotton. "We have an industrial agricultural plant that only operates between four to six months per annum. Making the facility operational for those other dormant months is quite appealing," Mr Davies said.



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