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How does a Cotton Picker Work?

Here's everything you need to know about a cotton picker

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Cotton picker
A cotton picker can do the work of hundreds of field laborers in a short amount of time. Pixabay

A mechanical cotton picker is a complex and large piece of machinery designed to do the work of hundreds of field laborers in a short amount of time. It has a lot of moving parts to it that are extremely important. Cotton pickers generally come in two types, though some newer models will combine features of both, as well as cotton harvesting machines, which used to be separate devices. The spindle picker, a machine that uses rotating spindles to pull off cotton from the boll, was the first successful picker and remains one of the most common types of cotton pickers. The cotton stripper-type picker, a machine that removes the cotton from the boll and separates other components of the cotton plant, is used with success in areas such as Texas and Arkansas. Both types of pickers substantially reduce the time and human effort needed to pick cotton and are invaluable as labor-saving devices.

What is a Cotton Picker?

The two major types of cotton pickers work in significantly different ways and often include features of other less complex machines that were once themselves separate from the picking machines. The traditional spindle picker works through the movement of moisturized spindles that pull the cotton off the plant while spinning, allowing the cotton to neatly be removed from the spindle after a sufficient amount has been collected. The cotton is then removed by a doffer and blown towards a basket for collection to be placed in a module builder, a separate machine for baling the cotton. Because of their “soft” method of collection, cotton pickers can be used throughout the picking season and generally do not pull more than mature cotton.

Cotton Picker
A cotton picker is a very complexly designed machinery. Pixabay

By contrast, a cotton stripper, used in areas where only a single harvest can be reasonably expected or multiple picks are infeasible, actually tears the entire cotton boll, seed cotton and all, and is useful for harvesting not only the seed cotton but also the cotton by-products. A stripper is generally used at the end of a harvest when the growing season is almost over because it completely removes the cotton– including the immature seeds. At the end of the season, there is presumably no more picking to be done for the year so it’s okay if the other seeds are disrupted. These machines are popular primarily in Texas and Arkansas, and have a long history there, as will be discussed later.

While module builders have been used over the decades for baling cotton, newer models of both types of machines often include baling equipment built-in, thus reducing the need for a module builder. For smaller growing areas, often a single cotton picker can do most of the work needed for picking, harvesting, and baling cotton.

When Was the Cotton Picker Invented?

Rembert and Prescott’s 1850 model of the cotton stripper represented the beginning of a long evolution in the development of cotton picking machines. The earliest models of cotton pickers were often good at harvesting plants, but not the seed cotton. Due to this, John Rust’s 1932 spindle picker revolutionized the industry in terms of picking seed cotton. His 1936 demonstration of the spindle picker led to a large-scale revolution in the industry of cotton picking, and the spindle picker remains the most well-known model of cotton picking machinery today.

Meanwhile, cotton strippers had a divergent history with an identical origin point, one that goes back to the earlier attempts in developing harvesting machines before Rust’s spindle picker and closer to Rembert and Prescott’s original design. The first cotton stripping patent was given to John Hughes in 1871, and the machines became a staple in areas such as West Texas.

Because cotton strippers could remove the whole plant, they obviously had utility for more than just the soft seed cotton. The first cotton strippers were actually mule driven and existed before the great depression, often mistakenly called “cotton sleds” because they were placed on sled runners. But it was not until 1931 that Deere Corp began selling mechanical cotton strippers on a large scale. The earliest stripping machines were not commercially successful, but the rise of cotton stripper sales took off after the Great Depression, with John Deere continuing as one of the leading producers of cotton strippers.

Where Can You Get Parts for Your Cotton Picker?

Because of the complexity involved with mechanical cotton pickers, breakdowns are usually for serious and identifiable reasons. If a part fails on a cotton picker, it’s best to go with experts who understand how cotton pickers work and what goes wrong. Mechanical failures are often due to parts that need to be rebuilt or replaced. Due to the nature of outdoor work, there are a number of ways things can go wrong even with the best cotton pickers available. When parts need to be replaced and pickers need to be fixed, it would do cotton harvesters good to contact Certi-Pik, USA.

Cotton picker
Such machines are used to save time and reduce human effort. Pixabay

Long regarded as experts in cotton pickers, cotton strippers, and other cotton harvesting machines, Certi-Pik, USA is well-known in the United States and internationally as a leader in replacement parts for all types of cotton pickers and stripping machines. Not only does Certi-Pik understand the nature of cotton picker failure and diagnosis, but they also carry a full line of parts and supplies for cotton pickers to get your machine up and running again. Their knowledgeable staff will be able to help you get the parts you’re looking for.

Certi-Pik proudly carries complete sets of parts for all of the top mechanical cotton pickers and strippers, including John Deere and Case IH, and CNH model harvesters. Certi-Pik carries a full line of replaceable parts for your cotton picker that includes parts such as cam tracks, nuts, hoses, scrapping plates, picker and grid bars, gears and more.

They can also custom build parts for your cotton picker, as well as rebuild parts when needed if they are not readily available. Cotton machine owners all over the United States (and the world) trust Certi-Pik to have the parts they need when something goes wrong with their machine.

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Final Thoughts

If it’s not obvious yet, modern cotton harvesting machines are big, have a complex history, and a lot of parts. The beauty of the modern machine is that it is capable of doing the work of what used to require hundreds of human laborers (the Rust model in 1932 could replace 75 workers with one row of cotton: modern pickers can work with six rows of cotton at once, and strippers can handle up to eight). Little more than a century ago, the idea of a machine capable of clearing an entire cotton harvest on its own was no more than a dream.

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New Locust Swarms Threaten Agriculture in Ethiopia

New Swarms of Locusts Threaten Crops, Food Security in Ethiopia

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Locust Ethiopia
An Ethiopian boy attempts to fend off desert locust as they fly in a farm on the outskirt of Jijiga in Somali region, Ethiopia. VOA

A new round of locust swarms has hit Ethiopia and is again threatening crops and food security, say agricultural officials.

Dereje Hirpha, the Oromia region’s head of locust control, tells VOA’s Horn of Africa Service that the new generation of locusts was first reported weeks ago in the Raya district and has since spread across thousands of hectares in 40 districts of the region.

The fast-moving swarm is threatening crops in a country where more than 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood.

Locust Outbreak
A Samburu boy uses a wooden stick to try to swat a swarm of desert locust filling the air, as he herds his camel. VOA

Similar locusts wave hit Ethiopia a year ago.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has said it believes heavy rainfall in East Africa has contributed to the growth of locust swarms in the area.

This new generation is arriving from Somaliland, while breeding has continued on both sides of the Red Sea, and in Sudan and Eritrea, according to experts.

USAID plans to work with the U.N. Food  and Agriculture Organization to prevent and control the spread of locusts, its office of communication says.  The agency is training more than 300 pest experts and providing 5,000 sets of protective equipment for locust fighters.

Hirpha says authorities are spraying the affected areas from planes and vehicles on the ground to ward off the pests.

Locals, meanwhile, are engaged in their own combat operation.  When a locust swarm approaches, residents try to scare them away by blowing whistles, drumming empty buckets, setting fires, and shooting into the air.

Locust chasers take position in green areas to disperse the swarms before the descend.

Locust Ethiopia
A man tries to catch locust while standing on a rooftop. VOA

“From a distance the swarm looks like a brown cloud, a sandstorm,” says Sora Kura, one of the chasers in the Borana zone.

The swarm follows the wind direction and is also guided by hairy antenna on their heads that detect smells and other signals of food, Hirpha says. According to the FAO, the swarms can move up to 150 kilometers per day.

USAID says the swarms will likely spread next to southwest Ethiopia and northwestern Kenya, and may enter Uganda and South Sudan.

Desert locusts can comfortably live in a warm, sandy environment like Eastern Ethiopia and Somaliland, Hirpha says.

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Ethiopia has to report any assessment of the crops lost to the pests.  In 2003 and 2005, locust outbreaks in more than 20 countries, mainly in North Africa, cost farmers $3.6 billion, according to the FAO. (VOA)