SIC 0724

This category includes establishments engaged in cotton ginning.

NAICS Code(s)

115111 (Cotton Ginning)

Cotton gins are machines used to separate cotton fibers from cotton seeds, a process that must be done before cotton fibers can be used for textiles. High quality cotton is the combined result of the original characteristics of the fiber and the degree of cleaning and drying it receives. The amount of trash and moisture in the cotton helps to determine the efficiency of the overall ginning process.

In 2002, cotton gins in the United States produced approximately 14.4 million bales of cotton, compared to 17.6 million bales in 2001. The decline was due to poor weather conditions and falling prices, as well as an increase in foreign production. Low labor costs in countries like China and Brazil had allowed global cotton producers to flood the U.S. market with inexpensive cotton. U.S. imports of cotton had grown by 5 million bales between 1997 and 2001, while exports to major markets like China had declined due to the impact of the weak yen on the Asian economy.

In the early 2000s, some establishments operated a single gin, while larger companies operated as many as two dozen gins each. Texas and Missouri are the leading cotton-producing states, with 3.76 million bales and 1.84 million bales, respectively; nearly 40 percent of all cotton grown in the United States is ginned in these two states.

SIC 0724 Cotton Ginning

California is third in the nation in cotton ginning production, producing 1.62 million bales, or 11.3 percent of total U.S. production, followed by Arkansas with 1.59 million bales, or 11.1 percent. A newcomer to the cotton industry, Kansas built its first cotton gin in 2002.

The two industry leaders as of 2003 were Anderson Clayton Corporation of Fresno, California, which is owned by Australia-based Queensland Cotton Holdings Ltd., and Lyford Gin Association of Lyford, Texas.

Eli Whitney, a schoolteacher from Massachusetts, is generally given credit for inventing the first cotton gin in 1773. Whitney's gin, which he patented in 1774, was actually an improvement on an earlier invention known as the Churka gin. The Churka gin used rollers to loosen the cotton fibers, but it was almost useless on the tight, fuzzy variety of cotton that was grown in the Southern states. Whitney replaced the rollers with revolving wooden spikes that pulled the fibers down narrow slots, through which the seeds could not fall. A brush would then clean the cotton from the spikes. The hand-cranked Whitney gin drastically improved the pace of cotton cleaning and made cotton a profitable crop for Southern farmers.

Hodgen Holmes, a mechanic who had worked for Whitney, further improved the cotton gin by replacing the spikes with saw-toothed metal cylinders, which were more effective in grabbing hold of the cotton fibers. Holmes, who received a patent on his gin in 1776, also opened up the bottom of his gin so cotton could be fed into the top of the machine in a continuous process. Mechanical cleaners were added to the basic cotton gin in the 1840s to remove the leaves and stems left by harvesting. The first drier to reduce the moisture content of the cotton before ginning was patented in 1929.

Although the basic technology developed by Whitney and Holmes has remained in use, modern gins have become much more complex. In the early 1960s, cotton ginners developed an improved version of the Churka roller gin for use on long-fiber Pima cotton grown in the Southwest. These roller gins used two knife blades, one revolving and one stationary, to separate the cotton from the seeds. Pima cotton accounted for about 5 percent of the cotton grown in the United States.

Many ginners also sold or processed cottonseed for additional revenue. According to the National Cotton Council of America, more than five billion pounds of cottonseed and cottonseed meal were used annually for feeding livestock. Another 100 million gallons of cottonseed oil were used in food products. In the late 1980s, more ginners also began to offer compressing and warehouse services.

Until the 1990s, all ginned cotton received the same treatment, without regard to its trash content or its quality. Cotton ginning is a voluminous and complex procedure, which makes it impossible for humans to visually measure or decipher the amount of trash in the cotton or the quality of it; however, new technological advances have improved this situation.

Computerized advancements, for example, now make it possible to monitor and evaluate the ginning process online, as well as evaluate the response of cotton fiber during the process. These new technological advances accurately measure each component of the ginning process, and allow the ginner to process various types of cotton through the minimum machinery necessary to obtain maximum returns while keeping the fiber quality intact.

In 1929 the Department of Agriculture established the U.S. Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory in Stoneville, Mississippi. The research laboratory has received several public service patents for developments that have improved cotton ginning. In 1938, the National Cotton Ginners Association, located in Memphis, Tennessee, was chartered to provide a national voice for several state and regional associations. In the 1990s, the association conducted a gin safety program, disseminated information on technology, and acted as a liaison between the ginning industry and machinery manufacturers. It also tracked federal legislation that affected the industry, including proposals affecting occupational health and safety, migrant workers, and clean-air regulations.

Since then, the effects of cotton processing on human health have been well documented by the National Cotton Ginners Association and the U.S. Department of Labor. The evidence indicates that the dust from cotton processing may be hazardous to a person's health. Many contaminants have been identified that could cause serious respiratory diseases. Because of these dangers, employers are required to limit the level of breathable cotton dust in the air and take other safety measures, such as supplying employees with respirators, periodic medical examinations, and training programs. In the early 2000s the U.S. Department of Agriculture began studying new uses for cotton gin waste, such as a mulch product that combined ryegrass seed with cotton waste.

Further Reading

Introduction to a Cotton Gin. Memphis, TN: National Cotton Ginners Association & the U.S. Department of Agriculture, n.d.

"Kansas Gets First Cotton Gin." Rural Cooperatives, 25 June 2001.

Lloyd, Brenda. "U.S. Cotton Industry Under Siege." Daily News Record, 25 June 2001.

National Agricultural Statistics Service. "Cotton Ginnings," 2002 Available from .

"New Uses for Cotton Waste." Agricultural Research, November 2003.

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