New Holland Fiat is planning to launch mechanical cotton pickers in India, hoping to alleviate the rising costs and scarcity of farm labor in the country.
“We are field-testing a prototype specially designed for the Indian market. It should be ready for introduction in two to three years’ time,” said Gerald E. Salzman, Senior Director at Case IH.
The proposed cotton picker is said to be completely different from the Case IH Module Express machines currently being sold in the U.S., Australia, and Brazil, Salzman explained. The mechanical harvesters designed in those countries are self-propelled with the capacity to pick the seed-cotton from six plant rows at a time and simultaneously compact them as ‘modules’ for delivery to ginners. The picker developed for India is tractor-propelled and tailored specifically for the much smaller farms in the region.
“India tops the world in cotton acreage and is behind only China in production. But since your fields are small, mechanisation is a challenge, requiring modifications in the electronics and hydraulic systems of the machines,” Salzman noted.
“With the cotton picker, we are basically leveraging our knowledge globally to design a new machine for India, while looking at the past when farms were smaller even in the U.S.,” explained Salzman.
Developing a good picker also requires working closely with seed companies, says Salzman, who can breed varieties/hybrids with the right plant architecture and height, making them amenable for mechanical harvesting.
Growers may have to make some adjustments to their fields by widening the rows to allow for space for the picker to come through.
To the extent picking rates have increased in the last five years, there is a large potential market that the likes of New Holland and John Deere are seeking to tap.
“Selling harvesting machinery also helps promote our main business of tractors and tillage/planting equipment here, as farmers see the same company doing both,” added Salzman.
India’s Chakan plant will ultimately also manufacture the cotton pickers that the company plans to launch by 2015.