Armed with her Business Management degree from Arizona State University, Kelci Morrow Murphree set out to work in agriculture and celebrate the generational farming she comes from. In all of it, cotton has been the central crop for this family.
Full disclosure, Morrow Murphree is my niece by marriage, and it’s been fun watching her, and nephew Kyle, build a family and career around Arizona agriculture. So, when she recently started as Pinal Gin’s gin manager, I had to continue tracking her career trajectory and find out her new experiences at the gin and get an insider look at this critical aspect of the cotton supply chain. After all, I knew she wouldn’t turn me down for an interview.
Indeed, we often discuss the actual cotton production, how our Arizona cotton is in global demand and what markets it goes into, but how often do we quiz our gin managers about the very critical and unique requirements of cotton ginning.
I think of another friend and colleague in the cotton industry, Greg Sugaski of Olam Cotton Sunshine Gin, and can recall his focus and engagement on all things cotton. Sugaski is a fellow Project CENTRL, Class 7, classmate. We couldn’t move the cotton industry forward without our gin managers.
So, besides some of the obvious questions, I asked Morrow Murphree about her take on this unique supply chain link in the cotton industry.
Arizona Agriculture: Like many Arizona farm and ranch families, you come from a generational farm family in southern Arizona. Talk about what it means to stay involved in the industry, especially in your new role as gin manager for Pinal Gin?
Murphree: My family has been farming since the 1970s and before that, they had a custom harvesting and trucking company. It has always been important to me to stay in the ag industry, it’s what I know and what I am passionate about.
Before taking on my position at Pinal Gin, I was with Helena Agri-Enterprises for six years. There I was able to work with seed, chemical, fertilizer and other inputs. I loved the diversity and constant change that came with my position but at the end of the day, cotton has been my family’s focus and I know ultimately this is where I needed to be. I am very proud to be a woman in ag. I feel like there are several of us paving the way for future women wanting solid careers in agriculture.
Arizona Agriculture: Describe what’s been most exciting and rewarding for you in your new role?
Murphree: This season everything has been exciting, although I had worked at a gin before I was not this involved. It has been so exciting to learn about the entire process and be hands-on dealing with growers, marketers, vendors, and the gin itself. I have learned so much in such a short amount of time.
Arizona Agriculture: What’s been most surprising in your new role?
Murphree: Coming from a management background I have seen it all, I can’t really think of anything surprising.
Arizona Agriculture: What do you like the most about what you do?
Murphree: To be completely honest, I like every aspect of my job. I get to deal with accounting, network with new people, and do day-to-day problem-solving.
Arizona Agriculture: During the season, gins run 24/7. I’ve read that a cotton gin can’t afford any downtime, so managers always talk about “Keep the stands in.” Explain what this is and describe what this felt like during this latest cotton season? Note to reader: A “gin stand” is the last piece of machinery to receive seed cotton before it heads into the pressing operation to make the cotton bales. It removes the lint from the seed with a series of saws. Then the lint goes one way, the seeds go another, and the trash goes a third. Some suggest it’s the most important part of the gin, so, keeping the stands in – a continuous flow into the stands – is one of the biggest industry headaches.
Murphree: Yes, if the stands aren’t running the rest of the gin will have to stop production. It’s never a good feeling to check the cameras and see the stands out, that means there is a problem, and we are getting behind. This year, due to employee issues, we only ran a day shift so it is important to be able to be as productive as we can within the 11-hour shift.
Arizona Agriculture: We had a pretty good cotton harvest season with USDA-NASS telling us we averaged 1,291 pounds per acre, the highest since the 2018 crop. Is that buzz about production and yield felt in the gin during the peak of the season?
Murphree: As with everything else in the Ag industry this year, acres were down, but with the good weather most of our grower’s yields were up so the gin was not affected. We will end up ginning about the same number of bales as they did last year. Next year, however, may be a different story.
Arizona Agriculture: I’m told that once at the gin, the cotton really acquires its value when it becomes a bale ready to be shipped. Talk about this?
Murphree: The process is fast once the cotton is ginned, the finished bales will be shipped to the warehouse (usually by the next day) and from there they are graded and classed by the USDA and sold. I believe the grower usually will receive a payment within a week or two.
Arizona Agriculture: There are more opportunities in agriculture than the jobs we typically think of. While you’re still in that “younger generation,” what would you tell students going to UArizona or ASU about ag jobs and opportunities? What should they expect when they get out?
Murphree: The great thing about the Ag industry is, it is continuously evolving and changing. With the advancement of technology, everything is becoming more efficient and cost-effective.
When most people hear ‘Ag’ they picture someone standing out in a dirt field, but this is not always true, there are office jobs, sales positions, fieldwork, and so much more.
Arizona Agriculture: You’re seeing several links in the cotton supply chain. What makes our Arizona cotton supply chain links so special from your perspective.
Murphree: I don’t have any other supply chains to compare to, but I believe our supply chain is special because of the people.
I have met so many amazing people that I am lucky to deal with on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The people are what make the entire process smooth. I know that if I ever question or need help, I have multiple people to call on.
Arizona Agriculture: What message do you wish to convey to fellow Arizona Farm Bureau farm and ranch members?
Murphree: Agriculture is an ever-changing field, and we never know what the season will bring. We are all in this together and with the awesome Ag community, we will be able to face the problems head-on and come out on top.
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