U.S. cotton producers will soon be able to spindle pick cotton in 15-inch rows, go to another field and pick 30-inch or 40-inch row cotton — and do it all with the same harvesting machine.

The new header design that makes this possible was unveiled at the 2004 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio. The new John Deere Pro-12 VRS cotton picker row unit offers the same features of Deere's Pro-12 and Pro-16 inline headers, plus the capability of harvesting 15-inch cotton. Some variable row spacing units will be available in 2004, with a full launch expected in the fall of 2004 for the 2005 season.

Prior to the VRS design, 15-inch cotton would have been gathered with a finger-head or stripper harvester like those used to harvest ultra-narrow-row cotton. Stripper-type harvesters harvest more trash — depending on the year — than a spindle picker, which can lead to significant discounts.

The new headers are designed with an integrated feeding and cutting mechanism on the front, right-hand side of the unit. The feeding and cutting system is synchronized with the harvester's picking speed, and this allows picking of 15-inch row cotton at normal harvesting speeds without sacrificing efficiency or cotton quality.

The cutting unit cuts one row of cotton with a rotating knife, then feeds the detached plants into an adjacent row of standing cotton. Both rows then enter the picking mechanism.

After harvesting 15-inch cotton, the field will look like a harvested field of 30-inch cotton. The cut stalk remains entangled with the uncut stalk about 75 percent of the time, according to Deere. The system is not designed for a second picking.

The goal of the VRS design “is to try and increase grower revenue on their cotton acreage,” said Mike Miller, product planner, John Deere Des Moines Works. “This gives us the opportunity on some acres to go out and see what narrow row cotton can bring to the table.

“We're looking for increased yield or decreased input costs,” Miller said. “In testing across the United States, we've verified a 5 percent to 10 percent yield increase, in general, in 15-inch cotton.

“We can also manage the season length with narrow row cotton. It gives you a little wider window at planting, if you get delayed or have a wet season. And the narrow row cotton is going to cut out a little earlier.

“In certain parts of the country, we've seen a significant decrease in water consumption with narrow row cotton,” he added. “We also have a faster canopy with narrow row cotton. Narrow row cotton gives us more second-position bolls, which could mean more money to the grower through higher-quality cotton.”

The new picking technology has other advantages over finger-head or stripper-harvested cotton, according to Miller.

  • No reduction in lint quality compared to wide-row cotton and the opportunity to increase yields.
  • Ability to harvest cotton in a variety of conditions.
  • Don't have to control plant growth as much as you do with stripper harvested ultra-narrow-row or 15-inch cotton. “There's no need to crowd those bolls on the very bottom of the plant,” Miller said.
  • More planting options other than a drill. John Deere also announced the development of a new 15-inch planter during the conferences.

“The new units are available with electronic height sensing and Row-Trak guidance, and they're designed for easy maintenance and serviceability,” said Miller.

Little changeover time is required to go from 15-inch to 40-inch cotton, according to Deere. In wider configurations the cutting units are covered by a shield. The picking heads fit new John Deere 9970, 9976 and 9986 picker models built since 1997.


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com