Cotton Links

Not Your Grandad’s Harvesters

Farmers & Ginners Work Out New Module Logistics

By Carroll Smith
Senior Writer

Back in the day, trucks hauling cotton trailers ran back and forth to the gin with wisps of white lint blowing out of the top and decorating the roadside. When modules were introduced in 1972, fewer trailers were needed, and large “loaves” of cotton dotted the turnrows. Today, the landscape at harvest time is evolving once more as “half” modules and round modules are lining the fields, often in groups of two and four.

Credit for these new module systems goes to innovative harvesters introduced by Case IH and John Deere that build modules right on-board the cotton pickers. The Case IH Module Express 625 builds an 8-foot tall, by 8-foot wide by 16-foot long “half” module, while the John Deere 7760 Self-Propelled Cotton Picker builds a round module – about 3.8 bales – and wraps it in a polyethylene plastic film.

Monitors Assist In ‘Making The Drop’

For cotton producers, the new cotton harvesters increase efficiency, eliminate the need for a boll buggy and module builder and reduce the amount of labor that is typically required during harvest time.

Tonya and Larry Newsome, who farm in Brownfield, Texas, used the Module Express 625 this past season. She says the built-in monitors help them determine when the module is about to be ready so they can drop it at the end of the field to make it easy for the module trucks to pick up. The monitors track percent full, module weight and bales per acre.

“The monitors are so perfect that we can usually figure out if we need to turn around and pick up rows coming out of the field to get to the edge or if we can just keep going and make it to the end of the row before dropping the module,” Tonya explains. “You can drop it anywhere in the field, but we like to take it to the end if we can.”

The Newsomes typically put the half modules fairly close together in groups of twos. In 2007, Case IH supplied some of the tarps for the Newsomes, and their gin – Lonestar Ag – supplied the rest.

“The gin usually supplies all of the tarps, but Case just gave us some last year to get us started,” she says.

Lloyd Seeley, manager of Lonestar Ag in Brownfield, transports the Case modules two at a time in a regular module truck. Once they arrive at the gin, they are treated just like the conventional modules with no changes needed in the handling and ginning infrastructure to accommodate them.

The gin manager says that in the future Lonestar Ag will supply tarps for all of its producers who use the Case IH module system.

Georgia Ginner Tweaks Gin Settings

In Donalsonville, Ga., Cloverleaf Gin also has jumped on the new module system bandwagon, handling about 550 Case IH modules in ’07 and committing as a group to work with the John Deere round modules in ’08.

Executive vice president and gin manager Keith Pendergrass says, “Probably about 25 percent of my business in 2008 will be one or the other.”

The Georgia ginner says one thing he noticed in working with the Case IH modules is that the center of the module is more dense than the outside edges.

“It’s just a matter of logistics,” he says. “At first, I found that the amperage was going up and down, up and down. I had to fine tune the gin so that when the amperage fell down, it would speed the module feeder up until it hit the dense portion in the center. Then it would slow back down. We’re going through somewhat of a learning curve, but for the most part, the Case half module handles just like a conventional module.”

To accommodate the John Deere round modules this year, Pendergrass says they will change out the chains in the module trucks and install a module unwrapper.

“We’ve committed a substantial investment to the project, making some pretty major changes to the gin to accommodate the producers,” he says.

Chain Changes & Module Unwrappers

In Clarksdale, Miss., Mill Creek Gin actually worked with the John Deere round modules in 2007, ginning about 3,500 of them.

“To transport the modules from the field to the gin without tearing the plastic that’s wrapped around them, we changed the chains in five module trucks from square cleat chains to straight chains,” says gin manager William Clark. “Once we did that, we can haul any type of module in them.”

On the module feeder, Mill Creek also installed a Stover module unwrapper that automatically lifts, cuts and rotates the round modules.

“A scanner at the top of the unwrapper looks for a particular tag on the module,” Clark says. “When it senses it, the module stops rotating, and two saws drop down to cut the plastic. Two men sitting on a platform then pull the plastic away from the module, and the module continues moving through the gin.”

The Mississippi gin manager says when a conventional module comes in, the unwrapper folds up and out of the way. He also notes that the used plastic is baled and sold to a recycling company.

“The round modules do not slow us down,” Clark adds.

Everyone admits that the innovative, head-turning harvesters developed by Case IH and John Deere represent cutting edge technology in the cotton industry. And for anyone who is skeptical about the feasibility of the new module systems, Pendergrass offers this perspective.

“You either change or get run over,” he says. “When modules came along in the ’70s, the gin across the street from me in Texas elected to stay with trailers and not go with modules. About 10 years later, they were out of business. However, I am driven by my customer base and my farmers. Whatever they need, that’s what they are going to get.”

Contact Carroll Smith at csmith@onegrower.com or (901) 767-4020.


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