One says he would bleed red if you pricked his finger, the other says he bleeds green; but Kenneth Hood and Charles Parker have one thing in common: They both believe the new on-board, module-building pickers could help save the U.S. cotton industry.
Parker, who farms 3,600 acres near Senath, Mo., ran one of John Deere's new “round module” pickers last fall. Hood, whose family operation grows 14,000 acres of cotton in Bolivar County, Miss., has been involved with Case IH's “square module” picker for five years.
Both feel the new Deere 7760 Cotton Picker, which will be available for the 2009 harvest, and the Case IH Module Express 625, which was introduced in 2006, can save producers money at a time when they face increasing competition from foreign producers.
“With the John Deere system, we just had the driver,” said Parker, responding to a question from Marjorie Walker, the National Cotton Council's director of communications, who conducted a question-and-answer session with the two growers at the Beltwide Cotton Conference in Nashville.
“We also had a handler who picked up the round modules, but I don't think we would have to have that person dedicated to one picker. I believe one module handler could service two or three pickers.”
Parker said he's planning to operate two 7760 pickers for Deere in 2008 and will have a driver for each picker and one module handler. (Deere officials say the 7760's launch will be delayed until November 2008 to work out some kinks in its software.)
Walker asked Hood if he had changed the make-up of his harvest-season crews since he began working with the new pickers. Hood and brothers Cary, Curtis and Howard picked 100 percent of their cotton with the new Case IH module-building pickers in 2007.
“I guess the best way to answer your question is ‘what crews?’” said Hood. “We run several pickers, so we had a lot of support equipment — module builders, boll buggies. Now we don't have those tractors, boll buggies or module builders. We've gone to four people from 24, and all those four do is tarp the modules as we pick them.”
Walker asked Hood and Parker about the “learning curve” for operating the pickers, which basically perform the operations of the two or three pieces of equipment currently used during cotton harvest.
Hood said his employees have readily adapted to the new pickers because of their functionality. “You have yield monitors that tell you how many pounds are in the basket at all times. You have an on-board camera and a TV screen in the cab that allows you to see how much cotton is in the basket. And you have a lighting system that gives you a percent full indication.”
“I don't think it's going to be a big problem,” said Parker. “My son-in-law ran the 7760 picker last fall. He has degrees in computer science so he understands computers. But we've been running Trimble GPS systems for the last five years, and the men who work for us are used to that.
“If they can handle the GPS RTK systems, they can handle these new pickers.”
Both growers were asked what surprised them most about operating the new machines.
“The maneuverability,” said Parker. “When you first look at the machine and see how big it is, you wonder how it's going to operate on your turn-rows. We found we could turn back on the next six rows.”
The other surprise was that with the John Deere picker the operator doesn't have to stop to unload the plastic-wrapped, circular module. “You just carry it to the end of the row or drop it in the field wherever you want it to go.”
Hood said he was surprised by the easy adaptability and by the reliability of the equipment. “Also having the luxury of always being able to go to the turn-row to unload was one of the things that impressed me about the machine.”
Walker asked about changes the growers would like to see in the new pickers.
“John Deere is very concerned about the reliability,” said Parker. “We've been running John Deere 9960 pickers on our farms and Deere wants the new pickers to be every bit as reliable as those.”
Deere officials told media representatives attending the Beltwide that software problems occurred during the 2007 testing. “We're currently testing solutions to those problems,” said Jamie Flood, Deere's product manager for the 7760. “But we don't want this picker on the market until it is completely right.”
“I'd like to see better monitoring systems — not just on the pickers — but on every piece of equipment I operate on my farm,” said Hood. “I would like to see them give the operator and the farmer better information on what might be about to happen in the future.”
Both said the new pickers exceeded their expectations.
“That was definitely the case with labor and equipment,” said Parker. “We took fewer tractors and tractor drivers to the field with one picker. It used more fuel than a conventional picker, but we had 25 percent more productivity with the new picker.”
Hood said he agreed with Parker on the labor and equipment savings. “You don't have to worry about tractors for the boll buggies or anything like that. But the thing that impressed me the most was that I didn't have to change a thing on my operation. The labor I saved I can have out there shredding stalks or subsoiling or rowing up.
“The second thing is that with the Case IH module picker I didn't have to change anything at the gin. We handled the picker-built modules the same way we do the conventional modules.”
(In general, the former are about one-half the size of the latter.)
Despite the larger size of the new picker, Hood said the new units did not seem to cause as much rutting of fields as he might have expected. “That's because the weight on these pickers is more evenly distributed,” he noted.
Although the John Deere round modules will require new handling equipment for gins, Parker said the increased cost may be offset by savings in ginning costs and quality losses.
“The people who run our gin found the moisture appeared to be spread more uniformly through the module,” he said. “Since the cotton is protected on the bottom by the plastic wrapping you don't have any wicking of moisture into the module.
“We had two men pulling the plastic wrapping off the bale after the Stover Equipment lifts the bale and turns it,” he said.
“But we didn't have to have those men picking up loose cotton from around the conventional modules on the gin yard.”