The North Carolina grower has used both the new John Deere system and the Case IH picker, both with on-board module builders. Likewise, he has used a number of other conventional cotton pickers.

“Doing an economic analysis of module building pickers versus conventional pickers is complicated by the fact that it is really three different systems. There are things I like and dislike about each picker and when all factors are considered, most people will probably choose based on their favorite color machine,” Clayton said, getting a round of laughter from the hundred or so cotton growers attending his presentation.

The economics from a gin standpoint are probably moot at this point — if you buy a round bale picker and have 2,000 acres of cotton, I suspect the gin will find a way to accommodate you — that’s from the grower’s perspective, Clayton adds.

Clayton used some grower observations and some technical information in his comparison of the three pickers:

  • A conventional system requires a picker, buggy, module builder and three workers all the time. In good cotton, a second module builder may be needed.
  • Module pickers allow cotton to be picked by one person. However, help will be needed to load plastic, move and line up the round modules and to wrap the Case one-half modules. A 185 hp tractor and $23,000 bale handler is required to move round modules and a tractor with a one-half module trailer may be needed for half modules.
  • Conventional — modules are always placed on the end of a row. Module machines will not always dump on the end. Operators will need to unload in a good spot.
  • Weight of the machines. Conventional or Case machines weigh around 51,000 pounds, the John Deere OBMB weighs 68,000 pounds empty. “This is not really a criticism, the machine has a lot going on and its’ relative power is similar to Case or conventional, but it is heavy.”
  • Conventional and Case machines must stop to unload. Deere unloads on the go. This obviously improves efficiency.
  • Conventional and Case machines utilize reusable tarps. The Deere single use plastic wrap costs about 2 cents per pound of lint, about $19 per acre in two bale cotton, $36,000 on 1,900 acres compared to gin provided tarps.
  • Difference in total fuel cost per acre between the three systems is negligible.

Clayton notes that every farmer figures actual cost of picking cotton a little differently. While most of the cost inputs on the three systems are similar, he used the John Deere on-board module builder in his cost comparison of the OBMB pickers because of the extra cost of plastic, which is not a factor in the other two systems.

For the John Deere OBMB, the original cost was $565,000, with an average life of six years, leaving a salvage value of $226,000. Total fixed cost on 1,900 acres of cotton was $97,180. Cost per acre was $51 just to own the machine. Total cost of running the machine over 1,900 acres was $91 per acre.

Bronwood, Ga., grower Ronnie Lee grows about 3,500 acres of cotton in southwest, Georgia. His figures match up well with Clayton’s, with a little bit of a twist. In addition to his own cotton, Lee has a custom picking operation, which further spreads the cost of a new OBMB picker.

He now runs four of the John Deere pickers to pick his own cotton and for his custom picking operation. In 2009, his first picker proved to be a workhorse, picking about 3,500 acres of cotton.