The picker in the video looks similar to those that dot the fields at harvest time each year – until the back opens and a round bale of cotton kicks out onto a holding rack. The picker continues to the end of the row, turns, gently rolls the cotton onto the edge of the field and keeps going without missing a boll.
The bale – properly referred to as a round module – is wrapped in plastic, which also is done automatically inside the picker. Four of these bales equal one traditional bale.
John Deere started developing this picker because farmers want a piece of equipment that will reduce their labor and equipment needs. This picker does that, John Deere project manager Jamie Flood says.
"It comes down to customers are asking us to increase their opportunity for profitability," Flood says. "Round modules seem to be the best way to address the issues that are on grower's minds."
How the new picker – which doesn't yet have a launch date – addresses those needs is by eliminating the need for a boll buggy, a module builder and a tractor to pull the module builder. Essentially, a grower now needs one person to run the picker rather than four to six people to run everything necessary for to pack cotton into traditional modules, Flood says.
The other benefits of the new system will be preserving the quality of the cotton, reducing spoilage while in the module and increasing efficiency.
With a traditional six-row picker, Flood says, the driver spends 70% of his time picking cotton, 10% of his time dumping, another 10% waiting to dump, 5% servicing the picker and another 5% turning at the end row and such.
With the new picker, Floods says, John Deere is working increase efficiency to at least 90%.
The poly-wrapped round bales also reduce spoilage because the cotton is covered similarly to a hay bale so the cotton doesn't wick moisture off the ground and it doesn't have a flat top for water to pool on while waiting to go to the gin.
Moisture content also is more consistent throughout the bale with this design, Flood says.
"Quality preservation is going to be a really big deal in the industry," Flood says.
To accommodate the round modules, John Deere also is working on a system for the gin and is developing equipment to transport the bales. Though they look like 8-foot diameter bales of hay, they weigh much more and can't be moved with traditional haying equipment.
How much it will cost and when the new picker with the onboard module builder will be released are questions still to be decided, Flood says.
"It's going to cost less because it's going to save money," Flood says. "It may be priced higher than a traditional picker."
As to how soon growers can buy one, he says, "We recognize the urgency in the market place….(Availability) certainly is more short term than long term."