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This summer, Ross Gin Co. in Mercedes ginned its one millionth bale of cotton. When Buddy Ross’ father Bill started the company 65 years ago, the business processed just over 5,000 bales per season. (Each bale weighs 500 pounds.) This season the gin should process more than 57,000 bales.
Today Buddy Ross and his daughter Sally Ross are the general partners of Ross Gin. Their 29 limited partners are farmers raising cotton on approximately 30,000 acres of cotton from Brownsville to Rio Grande City. “Sally does most of the work,” says Buddy, 83, who has worked in gins since age 12.
The massive machinery that separates cotton fibers from cotton seeds and then bales it can draw as much as 3,000 horsepower. That requires a huge amount of electricity round the clock, 7 days a week, from late July to late October.
In 2005, Ross Gin relocated from central Mercedes to Mile 12 North setting up across from a STEC substation, for obvious reasons. Buddy recalled one ginning season when the substation was badly damaged by vandalism. “Magic Valley crews worked day and night so we could get up and running at full capacity again,” still impressed that full power was restored so rapidly.
Ross Gin is one of 9 gins remaining in the Valley which once had 77 gins. Many other changes have occurred. “Cotton breeders have really improved varieties over the last 20 years, so it yields more. And the boll weevil eradication program has really paid off here,” Buddy explains. Modules made moving and storing cotton more economical. Gins themselves have become more efficient and safer. Inside Ross Gin, massive beige machines, connected by giant chutes and pipes, look somewhat like monstrous washing machines.
Nevertheless, Ross Gin deals with a 2-4 week backlog at the height of the season. “Growers want their cotton ginned right away so they can sell it. But they harvest faster than we can gin it.” Each farmer’s cotton is identified and kept separate. A permanent bale tag traces cotton back to the grower and field it came from.
From August to October, 25-30 employees keep Ross Gin operating, while trucks filled with 100 bales of cotton head to a Harlingen warehouse.
Buddy Ross knows he can count on Magic Valley Electric Co-op to keep the business humming.
“I’m Buddy Ross and My Co-op Powers Me.”