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New module-building pickers may cause sticker shock

Are farmers ready for a $592,548-cotton picker? That's the base price of the new 7760 Cotton Picker with an on-board round module builder that John Deere introduced at its dealer meetings in Cincinnati.

While that number might produce “sticker shock” for some growers, it can be argued — as Deere marketing managers did in Cincinnati — that the machine replaces at least two other pieces of harvesting equipment and one or two tractors (at $183,019 for one of Deere's new 9230 tractors).

Currently, most producers operate a boll buggy ($70,000 or so), a module builder ($80,000 to $100,000) and at least two tractors with a conventional six-row picker ($300,000 to $325,000).

As Deere's managers point out, the equipment savings represent only a part of the equation. Both Deere's and Case-IH's new module building pickers can reduce the employees needed to operate the equipment from three or four to one.

Deere is also expected to emphasize increased speed of harvesting — the company says operators won't have to stop to unload the round module — and quality enhancements of the polyethylene-wrapped module when it begins selling the new picker next year.

The latter is expected to help keep more cotton in and moisture out of the module. Deere managers say wet cotton modules can cost growers up to a bale of lint when cotton wicks moisture from the ground.

The equipment required to remove the plastic could create some sticker shock as more gins upgrade their equipment to handle the new system. Deere says the Gin Improvement System that Stover Equipment Co. is developing for it will cost about $230,000 for materials and labor.

While those figures may be a lot of money for those of us who think $30,000 is a bit much to pay for a car, most cotton farmers have become reconciled to them. Producers will have to make a business decision on whether the new Deere or Case IH pickers will pay off.

The situation isn't that different for corn, rice and soybeans. When Case IH introduced a new combine last September, the list price was $300,000 — without the header. The new corn heads Deere introduced in Cincinnati run from $40,000 to $80,000.

What Deere needs to do is share some of these numbers with Iowa's “G” senator, Charles Grassley, and others who continue to say large farmers don't need farm payments. (I find it ironic that Iowa, where Deere makes its cotton pickers, has one senator, Grassley, who “gees,” or goes right, and another (Tom Harkin) who “haws” or turns left.)

Meanwhile, Congress is continuing its running debate on payment issues. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson told North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad's farm bill meeting he might favor reducing the adjusted gross income limit in the House-passed farm bill below $1 million, but he opposed any changes in its payment limits.

Both agreed the Senate bill will have stricter limits. Maybe the better question is whether the Senate is ready for $600,000 pickers?

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