In September, when Danny Clayton came to the Respess Farm in Pantego, N.C., to speak at the North Carolina Cotton Field Day about pickers that feature onboard module builders, one farmer came up, pointed to some round modules in a field across the way and asked him, “What is that in the field, out there?” No doubt the farmer was joking, but the round modules of a John Deere 7760 and the mini-modules of a Case ME 625 setup are still not often seen in the field. Clayton believes that will be changing.
• The latest generation of cotton pickers offers real advantages.
• New OBMBs let growers pick more with less labor.
• Potential acreage will make purchase decisions for many.
“Module pickers are going to become the new standard,” Clayton says. “I think that is inevitable. That does not mean that everyone needs to jump out and buy one, but that is direction we are heading.”
For his own part, Clayton himself did “jump out” and buy one. Clayton lives near Belhaven, N.C., and farms in Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties, growing crops on more than 5,000 acres, including soybeans and about 1,900 acres of cotton. The moderator who introduced him at the field day called him a farming “innovator.” He’s also an early adopter of new technology.
For three years Clayton has worked with onboard module builders, or OBMBs, including the prototype International Harvester ME 625, which builds half-sized modules on board, and also the prototype John Deere 7760 round OBMB, which produces modules one-quarter the size of conventional modules. Like Gary Respess, host of the field day, Clayton owns a Deere model. While Clayton gave his presentation, the host’s 7760 was winding back and forth in the field in the background, depositing round, plastic-covered cotton modules here and there in the field like a lumbering green bug — a bug weighing in at 68,000 pounds.
Clayton’s comparison was not focused on brands but systems, and his job at the field day was to compare conventional equipment — the picker, module builder and boll buggy system — to the new Case and Deere OBMBs.
Occasionally, he did offer comments on brands, however.
“There are things I like and dislike about each picker,” he says. “Generally, people are going to buy whichever machine is their favorite color.”
The Case mini-modules work in conventional gins without additional equipment needs. The local gin has to spend extra money to adapt to the round onboard modules produced by Deere.
“I think it is really a moot point,” Clayton says. “There are going to be so many of these pickers here in the future. If you grow 2,000 acres of cotton, that gin is going to find some way to handle it.”
Probably the most striking difference between conventional systems and the OBMB is the labor required. Clayton notes the conventional system requires three laborers at all times. But the OBMBs are largely run by one person, usually working alone.
That is generally speaking, of course. There is also maintenance and upkeep to consider. In day-to-day operation, a farmer with a Case OBMB is going to need someone to wrap those modules in tarp. A farmer using the John Deere, which automatically wraps the modules in plastic as it rolls them, will still want to have someone on a tractor move those round modules so they are best protected against the elements.
Flexible form factors
The Deere machine has the added benefit of being able to hold a round bale until the operator comes to a preferred location — say at the end of the field, where the bale can be dropped “on the go.” The company notes its plastic wrap can help protect against weather damage and water wicking.
The Case operator pauses in the field to drop mini-bales, an operation that can take just over a minute and sometimes longer.
Case says the company designed the modules so they are exactly the same height and width of a traditional bale, and exactly half as long. That design means growers can move two 16-foot mini-modules in a conventional module truck, just as they did one full-sized 32-foot module.
Four (approximately quarter-sized) John Deere modules can be transported in the same conventional equipment.
Since the John Deere is covered all the way around in plastic, the part of the bale touching the ground is offered some protection against wicking water.
“The conventional machine has reusable tarps. The Case has reusable tarps,” Clayton notes. “The Deere has single-use plastic. The plastic will cost you roughly 2 cents for each pound of lint.”
A number of analysts in various studies have noted the Case OBMB offers some fuel savings, both in comparison to conventional systems and the John Deere round moduler. In his experience, Clayton says, there may be some difference in fuel use, but adds “the difference between the systems is insignificant.”
This is one that may depend on who you listen to — and what you consider to be “significant.” Hopefully, additional research will be forthcoming.
Cost of doing business
Farmers won’t be surprised to learn the new equipment is quite expensive. Clayton says the Deere equipment comes in around $585,000. The Case is about $50,000 less. But with the new conventional models coming in at nearly $500,000, Clayton says, “I don’t see any reason to buy one.”
“At some point the conventional picker is going to go away,” he adds. “But it is not going to happen yet. They are going to be around for a long time.”
The question for many of when to make the transition may have more to do with acreage needs than anything else. The new machines can cover more acres faster. Growers will need to ask themselves if they have expansion potential, the option to add more cotton acres.
“The best picker for an operation is going to depend on the number of acres to be harvested and whether or not you have the available labor to run a conventional machine,” Clayton says. “The [OBMBs] need to be maxed out. If you are going to buy one of those things, you need to run acreage through it.”