Unwrapping cotton harvest

Over the last couple of years, the module yard at Adams Gin in Leachville, Ark., has provided passersby with a quick lesson in geometry. The gin has handled three distinct shapes of cotton modules — square, representing the Case IH cotton harvester with on-board module builder, cylindrical, representing the John Deere model with the same technology, and rectangular, representing the standard stationary module builder employed by most cotton producers today.

Each system has its pros and cons regarding transport, handling, covering and feeding into the gin. But for Buddy Jones, who manages the gin, the challenge is to feed any module shape into the gin without having to slow the gin down to do it.

Most gins already have the capability to feed both the Case IH square module and the rectangular bread-loaf module, which are both topped with tarps removed by hand after the module is unloaded from the module truck.

John Deere pickers with an on-board module builder produce a cylindrical bale wrapped in plastic. While the plastic protects the cotton from contamination and moisture, it requires additional equipment at the gin to safely and efficiently remove it.

In 2007, Adams Gin began working with John Deere to insure that farmers in the area testing John Deere harvesters with on-board module builders would be able to deliver their cylindrical bales to a gin that could handle them.

“For our farmers to have access to the pickers, we had to install some type of unwrapping device,” said Jones, who started working at Adams Gin after a stint in the irrigation business. He installed over 200 center pivots on Adams Land Co. fields.

Adams Gin decided to install the Cherokee unwrapping system, in part because the designer, Roy Owens of Cherokee, had done extensive work at the facility in the past.

The system is one of two unwrapping systems currently on the market, according to Herb Willcutt, agricultural engineer at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.

The Cherokee Round-Up Module Unwrapper uses gravity to free the cotton from the plastic wrap and is operated with joysticks. “A set of spiked arms pick up the round bale off the floor. The bale is rotated so that the bale is standing on its end, then lifted above the feeder. The operator loosens the pressure around the bale until the cotton drops out onto the conveyor, leaving the plastic attached to the spikes. The plastic is not cut during the process.”

The Stover Unwrapper GIS uses a grappling device to secure the bale and cut the plastic cover away from the round bale. “A sensor inside the cover serves as a locator for indicating the proper place to cut the plastic to prevent any pieces of the plastic being pulled loose into the feeder. It is cut by something similar to a bale sampling saw, which is mounted and automated. After it’s been cut, the bale rotates and the plastic is ejected off the bale. The cotton is then dumped onto the feeder conveyor.”

When it was built in the early 1990s, Adams Land Co. gin was hailed as the biggest gin in the world, with 10 Lummus gin stands. Today, several Cherokee 174 gin stands have replaced some of the original Lummus stands. The gin also has Cherokee module feeders, conveyors and dispersal heads.

The Cherokee unwrapping system was installed in time for the 2008 ginning season. Interviewed in the middle of ginning season, Jones said he’d been pleased with the system so far. “We’re running 60 bales plus per hour, and the person running the (unwrapper) console is not in a hurry. I think the system could probably handle about 80 bales an hour without a lot of problems. But I don’t know of many gins out there that have a need to do that much.”

Jones has fed cylindrical, square and rectangular modules at the gin, but hasn’t had a year in which he’s ginned all three module shapes. He prefers to gin the round bales separately from the square and rectangular modules, but says he could switch back and forth between all shapes if he had to.

When switching from square or traditional modules to round modules, “the Cherokee system is left in the upright position and safety guards are engaged to keep the cylinders from dropping, just like you do on a dump truck. The square or rectangular modules just travel underneath it.”

Jones says he’s using three employees to run the system, “but we’re still experimenting. One man might be able to run the system. It’s simple. It’s a hydraulic pump with some valves. It’s similar to dumping a pick sack years ago. You’re pouring the cotton out.”

Jones says the operator does need to “feather” the cotton out of the wrapper. “You don’t want the cotton to come out all at once and slam your bed rollers. But the operator will try to drop some of the cotton on top of the cotton from the last module and absorb some of the shock.”

Ginning season started a little late in 2008 for Adams Gin. “But it’s gone real well,” Jones said as last year’s ginning season was winding down. “It hasn’t rained much and we haven’t had any wet cotton to amount to anything. We’re probably going to be 16,000 to 18,000 bales short of where we were last year. Last year, we ginned 136,000 bales.”

According to Jonas Noe with Cherokee, the base Cherokee unwrapping system costs about $225,000. “Installation costs will vary depending on the height of the ceiling at the module feeder bay. The Cherokee system requires at least 25 feet of clearance. On some of the bigger gins, everything will work out fine. On some of the smaller gin, we may have to raise the roof over the bay.”

Willcutt said there are several other unwrapping systems under development.

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TAGS: Cotton
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