Saturday, October 4, 2008

Harvesting Cotton in Missouri's Bootheel

While I live in Arkansas and work in Arkansas the easiest way for me to get to work is through Missouri. I live in northeastern Arkansas just west of the Bootheel of Missouri. Blytheville, AR where I work is southeast of Paragould. The route that is most time efficient is to go through the Bootheel to I-55, then south five miles to Blytheville. As a result I go through some of the best agricultural land in the Mississippi delta. Huge fields dominate the scene and rice, cotton and soybeans are the most often planted crops. About this time of year harvest is in full swing. The equipment used is massive and fields are cleared in hours not days.

Cotton pickers pick six rows at a time. They have tapered cones that guide the plant into two rotating drums that have rubber fingers that strip the cotton bolls from the plant. Then a suction system takes the boll up to a cage that traps the cotton. When the cage is full a tractor pulling a large cotton wagon comes along side the picker and the cage elevates and tips so the cotton is dumped into the cotton wagon. The picker resumes picking and the cotton wagon transports the cotton to a cotton module compress. The compress has two hydraulic rams and a large bar that goes back and forth in the module compress and packs the cotton into a module. The cotton module is about 30 feet long, 8 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide. A module holds about 13 to 17 500 lb ginned cotton bales.

The process is very efficient, however in the last two years J I Case, my former company and John Deere have improved the process even further. Case makes a cotton picker that compacts its own module. The module is about half the size of a module but a transport truck can handle two modules so the weight is about the same as a full sized module. The Deere picker rolls the cotton into a large round bale similar to a very large hay bale. The pickers are huge to accommodate the compacting system. The cost runs almost $500,000. However it eliminates the need for a cotton wagon and a module maker plus the attendants. So it is a little more cost effective.

I have attached a video I shot near what is known as Cotton Plant Corner just north of Hornersville, MO. I go past these fields every trip to Blytheville so when I came along Wednesday morning I stopped and shot some video. I hope you enjoy the brief amateur video, but it does show cotton picking in full swing.

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