As 2014 begins, it’s clear that cotton growers will be looking for cost-cutting efficiencies to help them remain productive and profitable, regardless of acreage and/or market prices. Our Cotton Grower editors recently outlined five topics to help growers protect their profits. Topic number five: Module-building harvesters can pay off much quicker than you think.
When John Deere and CASE IH introduced their on-board module building cotton pickers six years ago, it didn’t take long for the nation’s cotton producers to warm up to the new equipment.
Orders were coming in for the CASE IH Module Express 625 and its counterpart, the John Deere 7760, just as fast as the companies could produce them. For the next several years, waiting lists were created for the equipment, as cotton producers clamored for the revolutionary harvest equipment
The reason for the demand was simple. These machines saved you money.
“The new systems have the potential to do away with the module builder and the boll buggy,” said Dr. Gregg Ibendahl, a Mississippi State University agricultural economist, when the harvesters were first introduced. “Not only can you eliminate these two pieces of equipment, you can also eliminate the tractors and labor that go with each, potentially saving over $22 an acre.”
But for a significant portion of the Cotton Belt, those savings didn’t compute. Growers in the Southwest who operated under stripper-picker harvest systems were unable to utilize the new technology, because the on-board module building harvesters only came equipped on traditional picker-machinery.
In the years since the CASE IH Module Express 625 and John Deere 7760 were first introduced, growers in much of the Southwest have been vocal about their interest in a stripper version of the equipment. In areas like the northern reaches of the High Plains of Texas, the module-building stripper innovations could prove monumental.
“That’s going to be the biggest deal coming,” said Kendall Devault, a cotton producer in Farwell, TX. “It’s going to be a game changer for the cotton gins and for cotton farmers. You’re going to have one of those on-board module builders working for five or six guys – just for one custom harvester. It’s going to help the cotton industry in this area of the country.”
Although both John Deere and CASE IH are rumored to be working on developing module-building strippers, in some cases innovative farm professionals have taken matters into their own hands.
Brian Ramaekers of Full Circle Custom near Hart, TX, is one such entrepreneur who broke out his welding equipment and outfitted one of the John Deere 7760 harvesters with stripper parts.
“I bought a used 2011 model in January of 2012. Me and a local welder who is a friend of mine started in on it immediately,” said Ramaekers. “We decided to put two burr extractors on it to give it greater capacity. I really think next year I’ll have 12 rows on it. I think that’s the way to go.”
Ramaekers also made other small modifications – removing water, fuel and grease tanks while building and finding a spot for the new fuel tank. Ultimately, he wound up with a piece of machinery that has saved him money and headaches in the subsequent harvest seasons.
As a custom harvester, he follows the trends of the growers in his surrounding area. So when growers switched out of grains and back into cotton in 2012, Ramaekers found himself suddenly in need of cotton harvest equipment. “I couldn’t hardly make myself go out and buy a boll buggy, module builder and all the support equipment that goes with it,” Ramaekers said. “The thought of the extra labor, going back into it, just made me sick, too. One of my main drives was to get away from the labor situation again.”
The results he’s found on the northern High Plains have been similar to growers in the Mid-South and Southeast who have invested in module-building harvesters.
“It’s great not worrying about anybody else, or any other pieces of equipment,” Ramaekers said.