COOLIDGE — For years picked cotton has been packed into a large rectangular module sitting on the edge of a field.
Passersby on farm roads can easily see these modules waiting to be hauled to a gin, but for the last several years what they’ve also increasingly seen are round modules of cotton — a perfect circle but huge — wrapped in a bright-yellow pad, also bound for the gin.
John Deere has been building a patented round-module cotton picker for more than 10 years, first with the CP7760 and then replaced about five years ago by the CP690, which sells for about $1 million. One round module can weigh between 4,500 to 5,500 pounds, while the older style ones can weigh more or less depending on the size of the module. And Deere has competition in this area also.
The real value of the CP690 compared to the old basket-dump picker lies in labor costs, said Jerry Lyons, account manager with Stotz Equipment, 500 N. Eleven Mile Corner Road.
“With this you have one man operating this cotton picker and no other support equipment in the field,” Lyons said. “I ask my customers ‘what’s your biggest pain point today? What keeps you up at night?’ Labor. They can’t get labor.
“I have one customer who has 11 units, so that’s 11 men. He had over 30 guys when he was using the conventional basket-dump machines. Went from 30 guys to 11. Particularly the seasonal equipment — you can’t find seasonal help. It’s hard enough to find full-time help that wants to work in agriculture. The biggest savings of this technology is all the support equipment. You have to have labor and fuel and payments. It’s eliminating all of that in this one machine.”
Another factor before plunking down that $1 million for the CP690, Lyons advisers growers, is the size of their farms.
“They’re very expensive and you have to have a lot of acreage to justify buying one,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that want them but for them to justify it most are saying they have to have 2,500 acres of cotton. Now that they have been out, we’re starting to get trade-ins, second-tier machines that are less expensive than a brand new one. So that’s filling a market for guys that don’t want to step up and pay the full price for a new one. We have several of those from time to time.”
The six-row CP690 picker is a pretty advanced product — a computer chip is inserted into each round module so it can be traced by the grower and gin — but eventually it, as its predecessor was, will be upgraded and replaced. The next model has Lyons curious.
“Shifting from the module builder to the round bale was a game changer,” he said. “Who knows what the next technology shifts are. Are T-shirts and bed sheets going to come out of the back of the picker? Who knows? People say there’s going to be a gin right on the back of the picker. It’ll separate the trash from the seed from the lint. It sounds pretty far-fetched —15 years ago if somebody would have said there’ll be something like this, it would have sounded pretty far-fetched.”