What cotton module system should you choose?

Choosing between red, green or conventional cotton harvest module systems may simply come down to farm size, how a gin is set up or the personal preference of a farmer, according to an evaluation of module systems presented at Cotton Incorporated’s Engineered Fiber Selection Conference in Memphis.

Researchers at Mississippi State University, Texas A&M, University of Arkansas and Cotton Incorporated developed an economic model estimating selected costs of each on-board module system (OBMB) on a per acre basis, not all costs of growing cotton. These included harvest cost, which includes harvesting and creation of the modules; module storage and transportation; and cost differences at the ginning stage, relative to a conventional system.

Gregg Ibendahl, agricultural economist, MSU said one of the biggest advantages of an OBMB systems over a conventional system is field efficiency, or how much time is actually spent on the row picking cotton. According to Ibendahl, the Case IH Module Express 625 (OBMB) spends 74 percent of its time on the row versus 70 percent for a conventional system.

“The only time this machine has to stop is when it has to unload the module. From the Case literature, it takes about 70 seconds to stop and put that half module on the ground. Because you’re not having to run tractors to pull boll buggies and module builders, you’re saving fuel with the Case system, about 30 cents per acre. It’s not a lot because the machine itself is doing a lot of work and is using more fuel than a conventional picker would use.

“You should lose a little less cotton with the Case IH system versus a conventional system because you’re building the module on the machine instead of pounding it into the ground.”

The Case harvester produces a module about half the size of a regular module.

According to Ibendahl, Deere’s version of the OBMB, the John Deere 7760, spends 87 percent of its time on the row. “The machine (which is still undergoing testing) really doesn’t have to stop. It can carry a module while it’s making another one. The advantage is that you can carry that module (which is a quarter module) to the end of the field most of the time. When you get to the end, you just pull a lever and it dumps the module.”

The John Deere system will use about 50 cents an acre more fuel than a conventional module-building system, according to the evaluation. “The reason is that this machine is wrapping its module and there are more hydraulics. So you are actually using more fuel than you would using a conventional picker and two tractors.”

The John Deere machine “should probably lose less cotton because you are wrapping the module in plastic and it has less chance to escape. The only question we don’t know is what happens if there is a failure of the plastic and how does that occur.”

With the Deere system, “you do have to stage these modules because you’re dumping them on the ground without regard to which direction they’re facing at the time. There is a special implement that fits on the back of a tractor that aligns the modules. Four round modules can fit into a module truck.

“Both machines are going to cost more than a conventional system, probably $200,000 or more. So we’re talking about a module machine costing well over $500,000.”

Ibendahl says an improvement in field efficiency of 10 percent can lower producer costs by $7 to $10 per acre. “So it’s really going to pay to have really good drivers who keep the machines on the row and do a good job of harvesting cotton.”

Ibendahl says in theory, the Deere machine “should probably be able to do more acres per year, because it has the highest field efficiency, although we haven’t verified that for sure yet.”

For the Deere machine, “There are also issues with how the gin deals with all the plastic. Do they have a way to get the plastic off the module? Some of our results have shown that if you slow gin throughput by 10 percent, this would add $4 per acre to cotton harvesting costs. So we want to make sure that the John Deere system creates the same throughput for the gin as a conventional system.

“There are also additional costs associated with plastic wrapped modules (on the Deere machine). Based on plastic costs of around $25 per round module, this would add about $15 per acre to the cost of harvesting cotton.”

Ibendahl says the least expensive system to use “is probably the Case system, but the Deere system will probably have less cost variability. They will likely have fuller modules at the end of the field. Anytime you don’t have a full module, it’s going to add to your costs.”

Ibendahl says all three systems, conventional, Case and Deere, “are going to have their place. Farm size could have a lot to do with which way you go. Both of the on-board module building machines harvest more acres, so if you really struggle to get your cotton harvested with a conventional system, it might be easier with either a Case or Deere system. But in some instances and for some farmers, the old way of doing things, using boll buggies and separate module builders, may work best.

“The final harvest picker choice may come down to whether the producer’s current boll buggy and module builder are still in good shape, the amount of available labor and the possibility of growing more cotton acres with a given picker,” Ibendahl said.

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