About 50 years ago the U.S. was in a race with Russia to get the first satellite in space. Russia's famous Sputnik prevailed by a few weeks. Now, the race to get the first module-building cotton picker into farmers' hands may not be as important, but John Deere is hoping to get its new harvester in orbit around fields near the same time as Case IH. (See story in next issue.)

Liftoff for both new space-age pickers is due this year, or maybe next. And no matter when the 21st century pickers hit the commercial market, both will provide growers with revolutionary harvesting that enables one or two people to do the job of three or four.

John Deere and Case IH are the only U.S. farm equipment companies that build cotton harvesters. The Case IH unit builds 16-ft.-long half-modules while it harvests. The Deere unit will build round modules about 7½-ft. in diameter and will feature a harvester similar to its 9996 picker six-row unit. The round modules will be wrapped in plastic for increased weather protection, ease of handling and loading onto a module truck.

Four round modules will be virtually the same in size as a standard 32-ft. module.

In this prototype system, modules can be moved by a tractor with a special loading system from anywhere in the field, meaning picking can continue while modules are stacked on a gin module truck.

Powell Litton, manager of Deere dealership Wade, Inc., Clarksdale, MS, says growers are eager to see the new module-builder picker available commercially.

“What excites us is how it will increase the efficiency of harvesting operations,” says Litton. “It will enable growers to cut back on seasonal labor. It will also enable them to reduce their equipment needs.”

Generally, the harvester will alleviate the need for one or two boll buggies and tractors to pull them, as well as a module builder.

“There is a huge potential for this module builder,” says Litton. “Ideally, it looks like once the machine hits the market, two men could run a harvest operation. One drives the picker and one moves the modules. With that system, you won't have to worry about placing modules in low spots in case of rain.”

Litton says he and other dealers are not sure when the new system will be on the market. Jamie Flood, Deere cotton products marketing manager, notes that Deere is nearly ready to launch its module-builder units. “It will be in the short term,” says Litton. “If it was more later than sooner at this point in time, we wouldn't be talking about it.

“We are putting a product out there that is designed to bring more dollars to the producers' and ginners' bottom line,” he says.

Flood adds that the new module-building process helps preserve fiber quality and reduce waste.

He notes that while a typical picker might spend 70% of its time harvesting and the remainder dumping the basket into a boll buggy at different areas of the field, the new Deere module-builder picker can “increase that percentage to 90%.”

Deere's 15-in. cotton system, which features its Pro-12 VRS row unit, is seeing greater use among growers and will tie into the module building system. North Carolina State University research shows that 15-in. cotton yields as well as or better than conventional spacing and in many cases sees a 180-plus-lb./acre increase in yields.

“Yield increases in lower productivity soils; and with its quicker canopy closure it helps in weed control,” says Flood. “The 15-in. cotton can be three to five weeks earlier than 38-in. rows,”

For further information on new John Deere harvesting equipment, go to www.deere.com.