Cotton 101: How Harvest has Changed in a Lifetime

one row cotton picker John DeereOne of the folks I met through the National Agri-Marketing Association, Robert Ratliff, recently help me connect the dots.

Robert grew up on a cotton farm and had posted the photo to the left on his Facebook page.  The caption on it pointed to a different machine that he used to pick cotton old school. He explained he “remembers ‘Second Picking’ of the cotton crop in November 1970 when he operated a John Deere, Model 22L, one-row cotton picker.

“It was mounted on a John Deere 3010 tractor, which traveled in reverse when carrying the attached cotton picker. Note the lack of cotton on the stalks in the photo. This is the second harvest of the crop after 95% was harvested on the ‘First Picking.’ Late opening bolls were harvested on the ‘Second Picking,’ also called ‘Scrapping.’  This field appears not to have enough cotton remaining to justify the cost of diesel fuel. this one-row cotton picker harvested more than the Ratliff cotton crop. We also harvested some of our neighbor’s cotton for a custom fee of two cents per pound, which financed my first year of college in 1971.” 

Today’s cotton pickers are a bit different to say the least.

The ones we watch in a field now are picking up to six rows and they are able to move much faster than those.  And they have been refined so they pick cleaner. It also helps that knowledge of the crop’s physiology has advanced and farmers know a lot more about timing harvest so scrapping is very rare. But I’ll talk more about timing harvest maybe another day. Today there is video of cotton pickers at work! For those of you who don’t know much about cotton, what questions do you have? For those who do know cotton, what am I missing?

This is part of my Cotton 101 series. I hope you enjoy what’s already here & come back to see more! You can subscribe to my blog above right.

About Janice Person

I'm Janice & this blog is about my passions -- photography, travel, agriculture & whatever else comes to mind. Putting all those things together is intriguing to me…. I can spend a lot of time soaking it up! It's almost always a colorful adventure!

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9 Responses to Cotton 101: How Harvest has Changed in a Lifetime

  1. SlowMoneyFarm October 20, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Don’t know about questions but am loving these – grew up in agriculture but my knowledge of cotton is very limited. Some years ago I thought I heard rumors of naturally colored cotton – rumor or fact? Blue and brown from what I remember. Closest connection to cotton was using cottonseed to feed dairy goats! 🙂

    • Janice October 20, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

      I’ll have to write a post on colored cotton! Too long for a short reply here. 🙂

  2. Don August 30, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Really like your site. My memories go back a little further. My family all grew cotton. I can remember as a little kid being out in the fields with the field hands picking cotton by hand. Yes they actually used to do that. You had a long sack, kind of like burlap with a strap that you could put over one shoulder to pull the sack along with you as you made your way down the rows picking. When your sack got full you would go over to a big truck and they would weigh your cotton and then dump it into the truck. The way people got paid was they kept track of how many pounds of cotton you picked and they’d pay you by the pound at the end of the day. I was pretty young at the time and thought it was fun, didn’t realize it was hard, back breaking work until later. Still good memories.

    • Janice Person August 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

      I have picked cotton by hand in small amounts… Research trials where individual plants have to be kept identified so I had a tiny taste of the work folks used to do. Not sure I would say I have fond memories of the work but definitely have fond memories of the people I worked alongside and the stories we would all tell.


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