Growers Struggle with Resale of Traditional Cotton Pickers

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As far as roadside scenery goes, old farm equipment isn’t the most pleasant sight. .

But in recent years, traditional four- and six-row cotton pickers featuring “For Sale” signs have begun to spring up along roadsides throughout the Cotton Belt. Cotton producers – having either switched out of cotton altogether or purchased new equipment – are looking to get some return on their used pickers. Oftentimes, cotton farmers have upgraded to the module-building cotton harvesters introduced by both CASE IH and John Deere. Both models hit the market roughly five years ago, and found instant popularity among cotton producers looking to save money in labor and input costs.

“We used to run 12 cotton pickers with 12 drivers,” said Mississippi cotton producer Kenneth Hood when he first began using an on-board, module-building cotton picker back in 2009. “We had 12 module builders with 12 tractors hooked to them, with 12 drivers. We had a Mule Boy (boll buggy) for each picker – so that was 12 more pieces of equipment, with 12 tractors hooked to them and 12 more drivers.

To run those 12 pickers that I use 45-60 days a year takes 36 people, 24 tractors and 24 other pieces of equipment. With that much, I’m supposed to go broke,” Hood said. “An on-board, module building picker will replace a lot of that.”

Since that time, scores of cotton producers from around the Cotton Belt have come to the same conclusion Hood did. The end result, it seems, is that more and more of the smaller, conventional cotton pickers are coming up for sale – and having a hard time finding a new home.

This is not great news for cotton producers looking to get any sort of return on their investment when selling their conventional pickers. As president of DeWitt Auction Co. out of Sikeston, MO, Jeff DeWitt has witnessed this transition first hand. His company is the largest farm equipment auction service in the Mid-South.

“The demand for four-row pickers is just about gone,” says DeWitt. “Something like a 9965 John Deere picker, we had some that auctioned this winter and the high bid was $5,000. Our farmer rejected the bid, because he felt like the motor and tires and other parts were worth more than that, so he didn’t sell it.

“As far as six-row pickers, there’s not much demand for them left either. Due to maintenance costs and high labor costs, you’re just better off going with a later model, a better picker,” says DeWitt.

DeWitt points to dwindling cotton acreage in the Mid-South as a primary factor in the disappearing market for four- and six-row pickers in the region. There is no doubt, though, that newer module-building cotton picker models have played a role as well.

Still, he says, there could be some hope – at least for the six-row models. DeWitt says he believes, in many ways, demand is tied to whatever the current market for cotton may be. Some hope may lie in interest from overseas cotton producers as well.

“There are some six-rows that will bring a pretty good value – models like the John Deere 9976 and the John Deere 9986. I will say they could bring anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000 at auction. A friend of mine sold one a while back, I believe to somewhere in Argentina, for nearly $170,000,” DeWitt says. “The later model six-row pickers can still have a pretty good resale value, but the bale picker has just about taken over the majority of the picker market, on account of low labor costs.”

Barnes is the senior editor for Cotton Grower magazine. In addition to writing for the magazine, he assists in online content production and in event production. He joined the Cotton Grower staff in May 2008.

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