In the 1940s, a caravan of cotton harvesters began its trek from Illinois to south Texas. Until then, harvesting by hand was brutally slow work.
Agricultural engineer John D. Rust from Texas remembered how dew made cotton sticks to his fingers and that his grandmother wetted the spindles of her spinning wheel to make cotton adhere. This led to the invention of a machine that added moisture and efficiently harvested cotton.
Choosing a Cotton Harvester
Choosing the right cotton harvester directly impacts farmers’ production and profitability. In addition to selecting a machine that aligns with their farm’s specific needs, farmers must also consider the factors that impact long-term performance and durability. These include features like high productivity, operational efficiency, and sustainability. In addition, choosing a manufacturer and dealer with a solid track record of producing reliable harvesters can help ensure that the equipment will continue to deliver optimal agricultural yields over its lifespan.
The development of a mechanical cotton picker revolutionized agriculture by allowing farmers to fully mechanize their operations. In addition to eliminating the need for low-quality hand labor, mechanization led to a shift from the old plantation system and its dependence on sharecropping to capital-intensive agribusiness. The full effects of the revolution weren’t felt until after World War II when the cotton industry underwent a complete transformation.
Modern cotton harvesters have advanced far since the early days of the mechanical revolution. They offer a range of features to meet the unique needs of each farmer, including the ability to monitor yields and plant health remotely with John Deere Connected Support. Designed to keep farmers informed about the condition of their machines, this farming technology lets them track fuel levels and location history, receive alerts, and access the in-cab display from a remote device. The advanced technologies built into harvesters can also help reduce operating costs and maximize yields by optimizing machine performance. In addition, a variety of accessories can help improve efficiency by increasing safety and comfort for the operator. These include things like onboard module builders, automated moisture control, and GPS guidance systems. In addition, some harvesters can be equipped with a fire suppression system to minimize the risk of costly damage and downtime.
The mechanical cotton harvester ushered in the modern age of cotton farming. Replacing the labor-intensive hand-picking process used to grow cotton allowed farmers to increase crop yields by up to 75 percent and make cotton an economically viable enterprise. However, this technological advance did not come without a cost: mechanization also eliminated the livelihoods of many workers, both black and white. In a region that had long relied on slave labor, this was a devastating blow.
Today’s cotton pickers, such as the John Deere CP770 cotton picker and CS770 cotton stripper, can remove up to six rows of cotton lint at once. This can reduce a farmer’s dependence on manual labor by eliminating the need for tractor-trailers that follow the picker to collect what is harvested. Instead, the picked cotton is collected in a module builder that resembles a trash compactor.
When a boll buggy pulled by a tractor filled with cotton is dumped from the cotton harvester basket, it is transported to the module builder. The module builder, which works like a trash compactor, compresses the cotton and seals it in eight to twelve modules that are then rolled up into bales.
Some farmers still harvest their cotton by hand, requiring up to four times as much work as a machine. Other farmers have begun to use machines for tillage and soil preparation, planting, fertilization, weeding, spraying, irrigation, and harvesting. In addition, new technologies are being developed to automate other aspects of cotton production, such as seed treatment and storage, transportation, and ginning (processing the cotton to turn it into salable commodities). As these technologies continue to evolve, they may replace even more labor-intensive methods.
Modern cotton harvesters are designed to minimize operator fatigue and stress. These machines are built with comfortable cabins, air-conditioning, adjustable seating, and user-friendly controls. These features help reduce driver fatigue and improve productivity. They also reduce the environmental impact of cotton harvesting. They use advanced technology to cut down on waste and pollution while boosting efficiency and productivity.
Mechanized cotton harvesting revolutionized the world of agriculture. It helped break an oppressive racial caste system that kept many black farm workers tied to the land. Hoeing weeds and picking cotton by hand was brutally hard work requiring much physical effort. The mechanization of cotton harvesting allowed farmers to produce more crops and get paid more for their labor.
Although the first mechanical cotton picker was patented in the 1920s, economic conditions prevented full mechanization until the 1940s. It took another two decades to reach the point where 90 percent of southern cotton was machine-picked.
A mechanical cotton harvester is a powerful tool for improving agricultural yields, but it must be used in conjunction with other technologies. For example, the machine must be equipped with a sprayer to help prevent soil compaction. This feature can be very useful in India, where a heavy load of crop dust can be blown into the atmosphere, harming people’s respiratory health.
Despite the challenges, mechanizing agriculture continues to progress. It is important for farmers to keep up with technological developments and make wise choices when choosing machinery. If they are not, they may be forced to grow only those crops that machines can harvest and lose their livelihoods. The same holds true for other industries, such as steel production.
Choosing the right harvester requires a careful assessment of farm needs, including soil conditions, labor availability, and budget. For example, small farms may find it more cost-effective to lease or operate older pickers with lower up-front costs, while larger farms may be best served by a large new cotton harvester capable of increasing yields and decreasing labor demands.
Once the cotton is picked, it must be processed in a gin to turn it into salable fiber and seed. This involves separating the seed from the fiber to ensure tiny bits of trash do not get spun into yarn and contaminate the product and also ensuring that the cotton is evenly and completely steamed to ensure high quality.
While harvesters made great strides in reducing the time it took to gather cotton, a host of ancillary requirements continued to keep them from widespread use in the United States. For instance, gins needed to install dryers to make sure that machine-harvested cotton retained its moisture and did not produce fires. Breeders had to develop shorter plants with bolls that emerged at the same time so that harvesters could collect them all in one pass through the field.
With innovations like reduced emissions engines, advanced filtration systems, and fuel efficiency, today’s modern cotton harvesters reduce their environmental footprint as well as operational costs. They also provide a wealth of data to help farmers identify practices, conditions, and varieties that result in higher fiber and bale quality. In addition, sensor and software technology advances allow growers to track modules from the field to the gin, making it easier than ever to manage their cotton crop. This helps to increase productivity and yields while decreasing the amount of water, energy, and chemicals used in production.
Durability is one of the most important aspects to consider when choosing a cotton harvester. A high productivity and operational efficiency level is important, but the machine must also withstand rigorous use in rough conditions. A robust build, quality materials, and a rigid maintenance schedule can contribute to the longevity of a cotton harvester.
In 1944, the Hopson Planting Company near Clarksdale, Mississippi, produced a cotton crop that used no human labor to pick, chop, or plant it. This revolutionary achievement triggered a wave of mechanization that revolutionized the way farmers plant, cultivate, and harvest cotton. The late historian Donald Holley dubbed it “The Second Great Emancipation.” The mechanical cotton picker allowed workers to leave the field to seek work in urban areas and other parts of the world.
The mechanical revolution was a new thing in human experience, and it seemed to go on regardless of social conditions. However, it did require other changes to make the mechanical inventions work. Gins needed dryers to process the cotton, breeders had to develop shorter plants and bolls that emerged at the same time so that a single pass through the field could be made, and mechanical harvesters had to be designed that would strip only the cotton and not the leaves and other debris.
The modern cotton harvester combines the stripping and picking machines into one device that compacts the stripped cotton into bales. These bales can resemble the round type used for hay or stray in appearance, and they can weigh up to 25,000 pounds. Modern technology has also helped farmers improve the efficiencies of the machines by reducing power consumption, fuel costs, and noise emissions.