New On-board, Module-building Cotton Pickers Are A Matter Of Necessity

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The concept of mechanical cotton pickers goes to back to pre-Civil War days, believe it or not, but it remained only a pipedream for almost a century.

Case IH Module Express 625
“This is the most efficient cotton-harvesting package available,” says Trent Haggard, Director of Case IH Global Marketing for the cotton industry. “We’ve changed for the better the way cotton will be handled from picker to gin, and will make customers even more productive by streamlining the module-building process.”
The 6-row Case IH Module Express 625 was designed in collaboration with growers and ginners.
“… We’ve successfully run thousands of Case IH modules through gins across the Cotton Belt,” Haggard says. “They’ve been incredibly well-received and are already in very high demand.”
“Growers and gins have emphasized the importance of the modules working within existing systems to maximize productivity,” he adds.
A conventional module is 8’x8’x32’. The Module Express builds “half modules” of about 7 bales that are the same height and width of a conventional module, but half as long. “So other than tarps,” Haggard continues, “they require no alterations in the ginning process.”
Two of the modules can be loaded end-to-end in a standard module truck, and they also feed end-to-end into the gin.
“We’re delighted and proud to be a pioneer in the industry yet again,” Haggard adds. “It’s absolutely in keeping with our heritage that we were able to make this contribution. We designed and manufactured the first mechanized cotton harvester in 1943, and our goal always has been to enhance the profitability of cotton farmers’ and custom harvesters’ operations.”

Donald Holley, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, writes in his book “The Second Great Emancipation – The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the Modern South,” that the first patent was issued for a mechanical picker in 1850. From there, all sorts of designs were tried – one was an attempt to separate lint from bolls with air blasts; another used static electricity. They were probably good ideas at the time, but that’s all they were – ideas – and weren’t even remotely successful.

In 1936, John Rush field tested a picker he designed and built at what was then the Delta Experiment Station (now the Delta Research and Extension Center) in Stoneville, MS. Based on the trial, Rush was given credit for the first successful mechanical picker. He believed a single picker would replace 50-100 manual laborers, but that was not met with the fanfare and fireworks you would expect today – far from it, in fact. Holley writes that at that the time, it was feared mechanical pickers would send millions to the unemployment lines.

In 1942, Fowler McCormick, chairman of the board of International Harvester, announced that his company had a perfected mechanical spindle picker ready for production. And in 1943 on Hopson Plantation near Clarksdale, MS, he proved it.

To say the rest is history is somewhat of an understatement. The economics of the original pickers and today’s on-board, module-building pickers are poles apart. The labor that was plentiful when the first pickers hit the field is now critically short, and the new pickers were born as a matter of necessity.

The Case IH Module Express 625 was unveiled on the Kenneth Hood farm near Gunnison, MS, during harvest of 2006. The Deere 7760 Self-Propelled Cotton Picker made its public debut this fall.

John Deere 7760 Cotton Picker
The John Deere 7760 Cotton Picker forms and wraps picked cotton into round modules, weighing around 5,000 pounds each.
As the 6-row picker moves into the field and begins harvesting, picked cotton is moved to an accumulator, in much the same way cotton would move to the basket of a traditional picker. Once the accumulator is full, picked cotton is automatically moved into the round module chamber. There, belts begin to form the round module.
Once the module reaches a pre-determined diameter, the bale is wrapped in three layers of protective covering, then ejected onto a retractable handling gate at the rear of the machine. The wrapped round module can then be dropped in place or carried to the next turn row. The Deere 7760 does not have to stop to ejected a formed module.
“Once we take the traditional module from the cotton harvesting scheme, we can also remove equipment like the module builder, the boll buggy, the tractors required for both,” said Jamie Flood, Product Marketing Manager, John Deere Des Moines Works.
The only special piece of equipment a producer may need is the tractor-mounted Frontier CM 1100 Round Module Handler – very similar in design to tongs on a forklift – for staging the modules and lifting them onto a flatbed trailer. Unwrapping equipment will be necessary at the gin, but there are no tarps put on in the field or take off at the gin.
“Familiar equipment like the module truck can still be used,” Flood said. “Four round modules can be loaded into a standard module truck, with only slight modifications to the conveyor chain.”
“As big a step as the original module concept was for cotton production, the 7760 Cotton Picker gives growers something they’ve never had before – a non-stop harvest,” Flood added.

“We used to run 12 cotton pickers with 12 drivers. We had 12 module builders, with 12 tractors hooked to them, with 12 drivers,” Hood said. “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,” he continued. “With that much, I’m supposed to go broke. An on-board, module-building picker will replace a lot of that.”

Hood began experimenting with on-the-go module-building in 1996, using a modified Hesston Stack Hand hay compacter. The Stack Hand hydraulically lowers its roof onto cut hay, compressing the hay into round or rectangular modules. A decade later, ironically, the Case IH picker would build rectangular modules, and the Deere picker would create round ones.

“I asked myself why couldn’t this be done with a picker,” Hood continued. “I had some ideas, Jimmy Hargett had some ideas, and Case had some ideas. We put them all together and here we are today.”

Hargett, of Bells, TN, added that day, “I talked to someone running four 6-row (conventional) pickers with 20 people and 8 tractors. I have four new (module-building pickers) running with 4 people and a pickup truck.

“It’s the future,” he added. “Not doubt about it. The basket picker will become obsolete.”

Mike Henson, who farms near Lubbock, TX, used the new Deere picker this fall and it was love at first site. “I had been hearing about it for some time and I saw the first one in August,” he said. By mid-November, he had his hands on one. “It’s excellent. I love it,” he added. “It’s the thing of the future. It is going to help us keep costs down. Absolutely, it sure will.”


Jimmy Hargett sketched his idea for a module-building picker on the concrete floor of a farm building. When he moved to another building, he ripped up his drawing and took it with him.

The first production-model mechanical cotton picker made its debut in 1943 at Hopson Plantation, near Clarksdale, MS.

Kenneth Hood

Mike Henson

The Case IH Module Express 625.


Half-modules move into the gin the same way as conventional

The Stover Unwrapper Gin Improvement System will automatically lift, cut and rotate round modules as they move toward the module feeder.

Gantz is the editor of Cotton Grower magazine. Over the years, he has won many National Agricultural Marketing Association awards, including two national NAMAs – one in advertising and one in public relations. Gantz brings hands-on experience, having worked as Sales Manager for an agricultural supply distributor in the Mississippi Delta.

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