Saturday, April 13, 2024

Pickin’ And Ginnin’

Missouri Cotton Farmer And Ginner Shares Insights About Bigger, Denser Round Bales

• By Carroll Smith •

inspecting plastic wrap
Missouri cotton farmer Allen Below (right) discusses features of the new CP770 with Roger Zey (left), John Deere global cotton business manager, and picker operator Josh Morgan — photos by Carroll Smith

Allen Below, who grows mostly cotton in Stoddard, New Madrid and Wayne counties, Missouri, says farming is all he has ever done since he was a kid.

“My great grandfather started an operation here years ago, so I am the fourth generation,” he says. “Like everybody else, we have increased in size and tried to be more efficient across the farm. I took over when I was 20 years old, and we were farming about 1,500 acres. Since then, I’ve seen some dramatic changes, such as the introduction of the John Deere CP770, which is able to make larger, denser round bales.”

Today, Below farms 10,000 acres at Keesler Farms Inc. in partnership with two brothers — Austin and Justin Littleton. About 6,500 acres are planted to cotton, and the rest is split among corn, peanuts and soybeans.

“We share equipment, and they farm about half the acres, and I farm about half,” Below says. “One of the pickers is theirs, and two are mine. We also make decisions together. Every morning we meet at the shop to decide what we are going to do that day.”

Although most of the farm’s cotton acres are planted to Deltapine, they also grow some Stoneville, NexGen and Dyna-Gro varieties as well.

“We are Deltapine New Product Evaluator growers and have been in the program for a long time,” Below says. “We like being able to see the new varieties firsthand in our NPE trials. Throughout the year, Deltapine has several conference calls with its NPE growers so everyone can talk about what they’re seeing in the plots. It’s a good learning experience for us.”

Stoddard County Cotton Co.

When Below got into the cotton business in 1993, he and three other farmers had the opportunity to buy into a co-op gin — Stoddard County Cotton Co. — after his first season.

“When I first got into it, I knew zero about ginning,” he says. We all just stepped in with the attitude of ‘Well, here we are.’ But it’s been good. An older gentleman named Don Farmer was there and had been the ginner all his life. He has long passed, but he knew his stuff.”

Twenty years ago, Pedro Rivera was employed by the gin, learned from hands-on experience and worked his way up. Today, he runs the plant, does all the day to day maintenance and hires most of the crew.

“Finding gin labor has been difficult,” Below says. “Before ginning season starts, we usually have a big stack of applications. We had two this year. Pedro found other people to come to work, but we are still about one person short on each crew right now. We run day and night shifts and take off every other Sunday.”

Stoddard County Cotton Co. typically processes 25,000-30,000 bales per year.

“We mainly gin our own cotton, but we have a handful of customers, too,” Below says. “When we bought the gin, we upgraded to make it faster and bigger. We added a module feeder and changed the press. We did a lot of work on it and increased the number of bales being brought in.”

John Deere CP770 Harvester
josh morgan
Changing The Bale Wrap
    Josh Morgan, who works for Keesler Farms Inc. and has been running a picker for the past 18 years, says changing the bale wrap is much easier on the CP770.
    “The CP770 holds five rolls of bale wrap — one roll is in use and the other four are stored above it,” he says. “On the older model round bale pickers, I had to climb down the ladder to the ground to change the wrap. Now, I just open the door of the cab and walk down the new platform to the back of the machine, which is more efficient.
    “Then I flip a switch to load the new roll, feed it into the machine, flip another switch and it’s ready to start wrapping again. This process usually takes me about a minute to a minute and a half.
    “The new platforms on both sides that run from the cab to the back of the CP770 are also a good safety feature. Instead of hanging off the side of the picker, you have something to stand on when you’re blowing cotton off in the morning before getting out in the field.”

One of the most recent additions to the farming operation is a new John Deere CP770 cotton picker that Below purchased. He and his partners typically run three machines. This year, they have the CP770 and two John Deere CP690s.

Below says they figure about 2,000 acres per picker to get over the crop efficiently. In some years, such as this one, the Missouri farmers push that number a bit. But unless the acreage goes up or down dramatically, they believe three pickers will meet their needs.

“The CP770 is capable of making a larger, 96-inch round bale,” he says. “The bigger bales cut down on the number of sheets of wrap, which reduces costs. But it’s the producer’s choice. We’re still making 92-inch bales with the CP770, but they are denser. If you compare a 92-inch bale that comes out of this picker to a 92-inch bale that comes out of the CP690, the CP770 bale is going to weigh more even though the circumference is the same.”

Transporting Denser Bales

The weight increase is a consideration when transporting the CP770 round bales, Below says. Right now, they are hauling eight, 92-inch bales on a flatbed truck.

“This gives us a full load that meets the legal weight for the highway,” he says. “If we hauled eight, 96-inch bales that weigh several hundred pounds more, we would be overweight for the road. I think we could haul seven 96-inch rounds instead of eight 92-inch rounds and still bring the same amount of cotton to the gin with one less wrap. If we don’t have to stack and tie them down on the truck, the bales would be easier to load and unload, too. That’s one scenario I envision and would like to try.”

Because he is part owner in a gin, Below is also interested in how to handle the larger bales once they get to the lot and have to be moved into the plant.

“We may have to modify a module truck or do something else to get them into the gin,” he says. “I believe our feeder and unwrapping system will accommodate the 96-inch round bales. I want to build some before we finish harvest, so I can experiment. We want to know how to make everything work for next year.”

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