In a year when corn acres are up and cotton acres are down by 20%, new combines can be slim pickins'. But cotton pickers, well, there might be some good bargains out there.

And the best deal of all might be in one of the most expensive units on the showroom floor, the Case IH Module Express 625. The near-$500,000, six-row pickers not only harvest cotton, but also build a module that is gin ready — at the same time.

That means a grower can likely pick his crop and haul it to the gin without the need of one or two boll buggies, the tractors to pull them or the traditional module builder.

“We've had several prototypes of the units out a few years and have two new ones out for 2007,” says Terry Hlavinka, who with his father, Joe, operates Hlavinka Equipment at seven Texas locations along the Coastal Bend and further south.

“Farmers like them and gins like them,” adds Doug Parker, Parker Implement, Munday, TX. “We're glad the units are now in production.”

Case IH and John Deere are the only U.S. farm equipment companies that build cotton harvesters. Both have been racing to introduce the revolutionary module-building pickers.

The Module Express 625 can build an 8-ft.-wide, 8-ft.-high and 16-ft.-long module, two of which are virtually equal in size to a traditional 32-ft. module. Each half module weighs about 10,000 lbs., or about 20 bales. The two half-modules load onto a standard module truck.

Trent Haggard, director of Case IH global marketing for the cotton industry, says the module-building harvester has been tested across the Cotton Belt. “With this picker, it's one man, one machine for cotton harvest and module-building, so you reduce your equipment and labor investment dramatically,” says Haggard.

“It takes less time to unload a 10,000-lb. module than to empty 10,000 lbs. of cotton from a traditional harvester basket,” he adds.

The picker is powered by a 9-liter, 365-hp. engine that will run off a B5 biodiesel blend. Sensors and augers automatically move cotton as the module is being compressed. It's designed to build consistent domed modules to help offset weather-related damage. Custom-fit module covers add to the protection.

Harvester monitors track percent full, module weight and bales/acre. Growers can use this information to plan dropoff points around a field for easy access by the gin's module trucks.

Parker says the only problem with the new system is that growers will be trading in a lot of unneeded equipment. “It (Module Express 625) can replace $250,000 in equipment,” he says. Another concern could be the weight of the unit in soft soil or wet soil. Parker says Case IH is looking at dual wheels to help alleviate that problem.

While the overall switch from cotton to corn acres was about 20% nationwide, it was 10-15% in Texas, which grows about a fourth of the nation's cotton crop. Many areas are not as feasible for corn production, even at $4-plus/bu.

Most Texas cotton has been produced from stripper varieties, and John Deere makes the only stripper harvesters on the market. But with picker varieties now making up some 75% of Texas production, the new Case module-building units could find a home outside of traditional picker regions in south Texas, the midsouth and southeast.

“We've been anticipating the new module-building harvesters,” says Hlavinka, adding that there will likely be a larger supply of the units available for 2008.

Texas A&M University agronomists say the picker varieties are helping growers improve their cotton quality. Using picker harvesting could also enhance micronaire numbers because cotton can be harvested a little later.

“The pickers allow cotton to be harvested earlier, or later, when the cotton is ready to harvest,” says Hlavinka. “Pickers produce a cleaner sample with reduced trash and bark.”

For more information on new Case IH harvesting systems, go to www.caseih.com/.