‘Beer can style’ is another way to handle these large round bales. Using this system, the bales are placed vertically on the feeder belt, with the top end of the bale up.

Regardless of how the bales are stacked on the feeder belt, the bigger issue is how to get the plastic coverings off and disposed of safely. There are a number of mechanical unwrappers on the market, but the majority of gins in the Southeast are still in a wait-and-see mode and using low-tech means of removing plastic from these belts.

“One thing is quite clear, from our study, these large round bales are here to stay. More growers than we thought are buying the new pickers and more custom harvesters are going to these machines. The result is going to be more and more large round bales of cotton for Southeastern ginners to handle.

“Safety is a real concern with these big bales. In some cases people are in close contact with a front-end loader and even under these bales taking wrapping off. There is little safety information about how to handle these bales at the gin, and as an association, safety is a real concern for us,” Nevius says.

Cost of handling these new bales for the gin is a question that so far has few definitive answers. North Carolina ginner Wes Morgan says he spent about $15,000 dollars reconfiguring a front-end loader to handle the bigger bales and added some part time labor at times, but the exact cost of handling per bale is hard to figure.

“I think the cost to the gin will vary greatly from one to another. You have to offset the extra cost with how smoothly the cotton runs through the gin,” he adds. “At 40 bales per hour, we need to figure out a way to put them in the gin four at a time — that’s an efficiency thing for me,” Morgan says.

“Going into 2011, I won’t even make a guess as to how many cotton growers in the Southeast will pick their cotton, or have their cotton custom picked using one of the two OMB systems currently available,” Nevius says. “Suffice to say from both the grower and ginner perspective these systems are here to stay and their use is going to increase dramatically over the next few years,” he concludes.