Tonight I was asked to answer a question about cotton on Quora and I decided to go ahead and post my reply here on the blog too since I had already taken the time to write it all up. The question was “How is cotton picked nowadays?” The answer I gave them follows with a few minor modifications.
There are a few ways that cotton is currently harvested.
In the US the two predominant ways to harvest cotton on farms is either using 1) mechanical cotton pickers or 2) using a mechanical cotton stripper. A cotton picker pulling the lint from the plants bracts that hold it on and leaves the rest of the plant as is. This is what is used in the Southeast, Mid-South and Far West (CA & AZ). Some areas of Texas and Oklahoma use pickers but on the High Plains (Lubbock & Amarillo, Texas are two of the bigger cities in that area) cotton strippers are commonly used. Strippers pull more of the plant into the equipment which means there will be additional cleaning or ginning needed. Its interesting to note that within the cotton picker segment there are some differences in machinery and labor requirements. The latest state of the art pickers include the ability to compact cotton on-board, pressing it into a module as it rolls through the field. These pickers can pick six rows of cotton at a time and are rapidly becoming the market standard in the US as they eliminate the need to a separate module builder and other equipment and people to run those. Most of the more developed or advanced agricultural systems in cotton producing nations use pickers so its similar in Australia and Brazil.
- a bit of recollection from a friend who drove a one row cotton picker in the 1970s as well as a video of one of the new on-board moduling pickers that produces rectangular modules.
- another current day picker running through the field and shows you what the round modules look like.
- shows you what I mean by moduling that’s needed with pickers that do not have the on-board moduling system and shows how those modules are transported.
Hand-harvesting is still the standard in many other countries and you can see that done in many areas of Turkey, India, China, Africa, etc. In these places, the people who harvest are still picking cotton the way it was done in the US many decades ago. Usually people are paid per pound or kilo of cotton harvested. Cotton in these countries may be brought to the gin in trucks, still in bags or in wagons pulled by tractors. (The photo at right is from a trip I took to Turkey and ended up visiting farms during my vacation.)
I can also tell you that I have picked cotton in the very recent past here in the US but that was part of research efforts where researchers pick individual plants or even selected bolls for testing and breeding purposes.
I have a lot of posts in a Cotton 101 series as well as even more tagged as cotton. Feel free to add topics to my blogging list! I sometimes wonder what others would like to know about my favorite fiber crop!