The world’s first commercially available module-building cotton harvester rolled off the line July 11 — witnessed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and employees at the Case IH manufacturing plant in Benson, Minn.

The machine is the Case IH Module Express 625, which allows growers to save capital, fuel and labor by combining cotton harvesting and module building in a single operation. The Benson plant is ramping up production to fill orders for the Module Express in time for this fall’s harvest.

The new machine continues a Case IH tradition of cutting-edge cotton technology. In 1943 the company introduced the first commercially successful mechanical cotton picker, the H-10-H. The original machine, known as “Old Red,” has been donated to the Smithsonian Institution and named a landmark of agricultural engineering by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.

Like its predecessor “Old Red” the Case IH Module Express has the potential to transform the cotton industry, because it’s designed to fit the needs of ginners as well as growers, says Trent Haggard, Case IH marketing manager for cotton harvesting.

“In the development process, we listened to input from the industry. Our engineers made sure that the Module Express fit with existing cotton production practices, with no additional handling, logistics or costs,” Haggard says. “That’s especially important when you consider that many of today’s cotton growers are also gin shareholders.”

Case IH began testing various concepts for a module-building cotton picker in the 1970s, including configurations that produced round bales and smaller rectangular modules.

“The overwhelming favorite concept of ginners and farmers alike was an 8-foot by 8-foot by 16-foot module, which is exactly half the size of traditional modules. That means gins can handle our modules with zero additional investment.

“Ginning Case IH modules and traditional modules together is a seamless operation. A modern cotton gin that produces 60 ginned bales per hour will be equally maximized while ginning the Case IH module,” Haggard says.

With the Module Express, a single machine does the work that previously required a picker, a boll buggy and a tractor to pull the cotton to a separate module builder operated by another tractor. That means operators can reduce their investment in fuel, labor and capital. Cost savings with the Module Express total 25 percent compared to traditional cotton harvesting methods, according to a study by Mississippi State University economist D.W. Parvin.

“With this equipment you can cut your labor force by more than half. It makes life a lot easier,” says Jimmy Hargett, who field-tested four Module Express units on his farm near Memphis, Tenn.

The Case IH Module Express utilizes an environmentally friendly, 16-foot tarp to protect bales from weather damage. Tarps are made of a reusable material to eliminate the risk of contaminating the finished product. If twine or plastic enter the harvest or module building system, it can be ingested into the cotton gin and even woven into the dyed cotton, resulting in a defective garment.

“For environmental reasons, we appreciate not having to use disposable plastic covers on the modules,” says Kenneth Hood, past president of the National Cotton Council and a farmer and ginner in Gunnison, Miss.

“Besides avoiding potential contamination, the reusable tarps are durable and cost-effective. They can be used up to five times per season and last up to seven years, resulting in a low cost of 31 cents or less per ginned bale,” Haggard adds.

The Module Express offers productivity advantages in the field, too. Compared to a traditional module, the Case IH module is not pressed into the ground. The densely packed module can be loaded into the truck more easily, with minimal waste.

Full modules can be unloaded either at the end-row or elsewhere in the field, depending on the operator’s needs and the size of the field. “In 60 to 70 percent of fields, operators will be able to leave ready-to-load modules at the end-row, to be picked up by a module truck with no need for a mover,” says Haggard.

Designed with optimal traction and flotation characteristics, the Module Express harvests just as effectively on wet or dry ground. The machine has a longer wheelbase than most traditional pickers, giving it optimum front-to-rear machine balance. Low-inflation front dual tires and large steering tires leave a minimal footprint in the row. Yet, the 365-hp Module Express has plenty of heft with a 9-liter powerplant and an all-wheel-drive powertrain.

Because it picks cotton from both sides of the row, the Module Express also harvests more cotton with each pass. For a custom operator like Darryl Pasket of Anderson, Texas, that means more money on his bottom line.

“The Module Express picks the field cleaner. When you’re paid by the lint pound, the added productivity of the machine makes a big difference,” Pasket says.

Yet these productivity gains don’t add maintenance, Haggard points out. “The engineers at Case IH added functionality without requiring additional service and maintenance points. The new machine actually requires less maintenance than a traditional basket picker.”

Production of the Module Express 625 comes on the heels of two recent design awards from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). The Module Express 625 was recognized in June with ASABE’s AE50 award for engineering excellence. The AFS Cotton Yield Monitor, an option on the cotton picker, also received an AE50 award. The awards are based on commercial impact, contributions to agriculture and technological significance.

“Case IH has a legacy of innovation in cotton harvesting, starting with the first commercial cotton picker in 1943. We’re pleased to be able to continue our company’s tradition of industry-leading technology by delivering the Module Express 625 to today’s cotton growers,” concludes Haggard.

For more information on the Case IH Module Express 625, see your Case IH dealer or visit www.caseih.com/na and go to Products. Then select Harvesting Equipment and Module Express Cotton Pickers.

For more information on Case IH visit the World Wide Web at http://www.caseih.com/na.