Andrew Burleson farms in Richfield, N.C., and last year operated both a John Deere and Case IH cotton picker with onboard module building (OMB) capability and he says both did a good job on his family farming operation.

Burleson gave a farmer evaluation of the two cotton picking systems at the recent Southern Cotton Growers and Southeast Cotton Ginners annual meeting in Savannah, Ga.

Burleson farms with his father, uncle and cousin, with most of the 3,200 acre farming operation in cotton. Their farm near Richfield, N.C., is only 30 miles or so east of Charlotte and not in the heart of the state’s cotton acreage.

Their farm stretches more than 35 miles north to south and 10 miles east to west. All their land is classified highly erodible, so all their crops are in no-till. They spend a lot of time on the road between farms and the lack of available labor and high cost of labor encouraged them to take a look at the new onboard module building cotton pickers.

In 2008, they bought a Case IH module building picker and ran it that year and in 2009. “We loved the machine and the concept. We could pick the cotton, tarp the cotton, label the cotton, mow the stalks and we were done. That really made us aware of how much time we really spent on the road and getting ready to pick cotton,” Burleson says.

The original Case IH machine had manual chutes that required an operator to fold them down manually and that took 15 minutes or so to get them back up and off to the next field. That was a big deal for us, Burleson says. The newer Case IH machine has hydraulic chutes, which greatly improves the timing and efficiency of getting from field to field.

In 2010, they bought a John Deere picker with on-board module building capability. With this machine they could pick 20 acres, fold it down, go a mile down the road and pick more and so on without much stopping, he adds.

The John Deere machine cost more and Burleson says he doesn’t like the idea of writing a check for plastic, which is required for the Deere picker.

(For a cost comparison of the OMB pickers from other growers see http://southeastfarmpress.com/equipment/growers-compare-costs-conventional-obmb-pickers. For still other opinions see http://southeastfarmpress.com/growers-compare-red-green-pickers).

The Deere picker is extremely long in transport, but turns in a short radius, sharper than the Case IH picker. “I can pick more cotton in a day with the Deere machine than my cousin can pick with the Case IH picker,” he says.

With no-till weight is not a factor

The John Deere picker is heavier than the Case IH machine, but their farm is all no-till, so that’s not a big concern. The Deere picker costs more than the Case IH picker, but Burleson says it is more efficient in picking cotton.

“With the old pickers we had there was always some waste — we tried to put it back in the module, but still there was waste. With the Case IH on-board module builder most of that waste is eliminated. With the Deere picker, the waste is eliminated, there is virtually no waste with the green picker,” Burleson says.

“For our farm, the Case IH picker is under-powered. We put a chip in it in 2010 to help, but it still struggles climbing hills and on the down-slope packed with cotton. The Deere machine has plenty of power,” he adds.

“Which machine is right for you? “I can’t answer that question,” Burleson says.

“If you have vegetables, fruit and other crops that require labor and it’s available, the new onboard module builders may not be for you,” he adds.

“When we got the IH picker, my cousin was picked to run it. When we got the new Deere picker, I was by default the designated operator. It had a new display and we had to make some changes, and my cousin just didn’t want to learn to run it.

“One weekend during cotton picking I had to be gone on a Saturday, and we didn’t want to let the picker just sit idle. I gave my cousin literally a two minute training session and left him with it.

He picked more than 60 acres, and I only got one phone call. So, both of these machines are easy to operate,” Burleson says.

They use an 8120 John Deere tractor to move the round bales around. They added some weight to the front end of the tractor and had no problems with getting any trash in the cotton, he adds.

“Both of these machines will pick more cotton with less labor than conventional pickers,” Burleson says. Most growers contend it takes about 2,000 acres of cotton to justify an OMB picker, but that’s also relative to labor costs.

Given a choice, he adds, he would never go back to basket pickers. “The OMB pickers, with our labor and topography of our land and how it’s spread out, are the way to go,” he concludes.

Wes Morgan operates Rolling Hill Cotton Gin in New London, N.C. Last year he ginned cotton from both the Case IH and John Deere OMB cotton pickers.

“With the Case IH bales, we didn’t have to make any major changes to the trucks we used to pick up the bales. We did add cameras to the trucks. We had cameras already on some of our trucks and we figured out quickly we needed the cameras for multiple pickups with the Case IH bales,” Morgan says.

“Multiple pickups in a field took some time. Loading the modules onto a truck without pushing one off the back of the truck took some skill and overall, picking up the Case IH modules took more time than we thought.

Did have some spillage

“We did have some spillage in the field and in the gin yard. Generally, the Case IH modules aren’t packed quite as tight as a regular module, so when you pick them up and put them down, there is more of the cotton spilled than with a conventional module.

“With the John Deere round modules, you do have to change the middle chain of the module truck, and it has to be a chain that won’t chew up the plastic in which these bales are wrapped.

“Pick up time for the John Deere bales is often dependent on the farmer. If they can put the bales down in a straight line it makes it easier and takes less time to pick up these bales.

“Unfortunately, a straight line doesn’t always mean the same to every farmer,” he quips.

“We didn’t see much, if any, spillage with the John Deere modules. You do have to unwrap the Deere modules and there is some cost associated with taking the plastic tarps off these John Deere modules and it’s somewhere between $3 and $300,000,” Morgan jokes.

In explaining the cost factor to growers at the recent Southern Cotton Growers and Southeast Cotton Ginners meeting, Morgan said the cost of handling the plastic wrapping for these bales can cost virtually nothing more than a person with a knife and a stick, or it can be as much as a major renovation to the gin.

“We put the Deere modules in one at a time with a module mover, cut the plastic off, 40 bales per hour and had no problems. It was a little more labor than I wanted to use. We had to end up moving the bales again. It wasn’t the most efficient way of doing it, but we were learning as we moved through the ginning season,” Morgan says.

Morgan ginned cotton from both the Case IH and John Deere OMB pickers. “My observation is that with the Case IH machine, not much change is required at the gin to handle the new modules. Slightly more time is required picking them up, hauling them, adding tarp and cleaning up the gin yard,” he says.

“We had a little more problem with leaking tarps and wet modules — maybe a little more than with conventional modules, but not significantly more. Overall, wetting problems are something to be aware of in fields with drainage problems during times of heavy rainfall,” he adds.

“With the John Deere system, there are some changes, possibly major changes, which will need to be made at the gin. Removing and disposal of the plastic wraps isn’t a big problem or a costly problem, but it is something that takes time and has a cost,” Morgan says.

“The Deere system cotton modules are a superior package. It gins consistently and offers very consistent uniformity and moisture levels. “We did some test plots and there was an unbelievable consistency in module weight,” Morgan concludes.

rroberson@farmpress.com