West Texas cotton farmers who switched from stripper-type varieties to picker cotton may also benefit, some years, by using a spindle picker to harvest the crop.

“In higher yielding, higher quality fields, picking offers an economical alternative to stripping,” says Jay Yates, Texas A&M Extension economist at Lubbock. Yates says the switch to pickers may be feasible because of an evolution in variety selection on the Texas High Plains. “The past five years have seen major changes in cotton production and marketing,” he says.

The first is a move away from traditional stripper varieties to picker cotton. Yates said in 2001, 91% of all cotton planted in the area was to stripper cotton with 9% in picker types. By 2006, picker varieties accounted for 55% of the acreage served by the Lubbock classing office. A similar change occurred in the Lamesa classing area where 77% of the cotton varieties planted in 2006 were picker types, compared to 0% stripper cotton. In 2001, stripper cotton accounted for 57% and picker cotton 21%.

Yates says overall quality also improved in that five-year period with significant gains in color, strength, staple length and uniformity. “The most remarkable category of change related to staple length is in cotton grading 36 or longer,” he says.

Before 2003, season average staple length above 36 never topped 17%. “The number of bales in this category has climbed to 71% for 2006,” he says.

Yates says results from 2004, a year with quality and yield problems created by poor harvest weather conditions, showed the stripper with a “distinct advantage to the picker when we compare the bottom lines. The stripper had a significantly higher net return of $269.25/acre compared to $198.83 for the picker, a $70.42/acre advantage.”

In 2005, with higher yields, “the advantage began to swing toward the spindle picker,” Yates says. “At the yield level in this study (approximately 1,200 lbs.) there is virtually no difference in the bottom lines of the two harvest methods. The cotton picker netted $641.95/acre after all harvest costs while the stripper came in at $652.14.”