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With an increase in the demand for North Carolina cotton, the machine used to process the crop is making a comeback after virtually disappearing from the landscape, agriculture officials say.

Changing times, changing demands and in many instances, the cost of bringing the gin in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Act requirements, doomed most of the cotton gins.Today, only three gins operate in Sampson and Harnett counties. The gins, which also serve farmers from Cumberland, Johnston and Wayne counties, are ABJ Enterprises on U.S. 13 at Jackson's Corner and Warren Brothers on U.S. 701 in Newton Grove, both in Sampson County, and Plainview Gin Co. in Dunn in Harnett County.

But competition is on the way. New gins are being built - Sampson Gin Co. east of Spivey's Corner on U.S. 13 in Sampson County and Cotton Ginning and Sales about two miles from Goldsboro on N.C. 581 in Wayne County.

The three existing gins have enjoyed good business and increases in production, and there appear to be no indications that they will suffer from the competition, The Fayetteville Observer-Times reported Saturday.

Growers and extension agents say there should be plenty of cotton for the gins. Growers in Wayne and Sampson counties expect to harvest more than 16,000 acres this year, more than double the acreage in 1989.

Unfavorable weather conditions in Texas and the far west, also major cotton-growing areas, have contributed to the increase in demand for North Carolina cotton, said Gerald Warren, secretary-treasurer of Sampson Gin Co.

Sampson Gin Co. is owned by eight people from Sampson and Johnston counties. In addition to Warren, officers are Henry Chancy, president, and A.T. Lee, vice president. Other owners are Bruce Warren, George Warren, Danny Kornegy, Frank Kornegy and L.C. Honeycutt.

Between them, they will grow 5,000 acres of cotton this year, Gerald Warren said.

And if all goes as planned, the operation will be ginning its first cotton on Sept. 2.

Construction has begun on a building, and the gin will have a maximum capacity of 24 bales per hour, Warren said. The operation will use a Universal Density Press, which produces compact bales allowing for better utilization of storage and shipping space.

A Universal Density Press also will be used at Cotton Ginning and Sales, where the first shipment of equipment recently was received, Vice President Dean Gurley said.

The gin, expected to be in operation during August, will have an effective capacity of 20 bales per hour. They are planting 1,200 acres of cotton, Gurley said.

Wayne County is expected to see a dramatic increase in cotton planting this year.

The projected acreage is 7,000, compared to only 612 acres last year.

The yield per acre last year was 850 pounds - unusually high - but that won't happen with a large crop, said Bob Pleasants, a Wayne County Agricultural Extension Service agent.

``We won't average anything like that this year,' Pleasants said. ``However, we should have a good yield. Wayne County's soil and climate are ideal for cotton.'

In Sampson County, growers probably will harvest about 9,500 or more acres this year, said Bill Ellers, a county Agricultural Extension Service agent. Acreage in 1989 was 7,640. That was less than in 1988 because to qualify for the federal cotton program, acreage reduction was required. The yield per acre in 1989 in Sampson County was 675 pounds, compared to the statewide average of 589 pounds, he said.

Gurley, who said he was laughed at when he went into cotton in 1988, said cotton today is almost like a ``bull market.'

He's optimistic about the future too. He said three bags of a new variety tested last year yielded 2.25 bales to the acre.

Gurley, who also has a farm in Georgia, says local growers can't equal the cotton yields in Georgia. But they can offer better quality, he said.

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