One of the biggest challenges for cotton farmers is making the best use of their limited labor resources. Mechanized harvesting has become an essential part of this process and has many benefits for cotton growers.
According to Certi-Pik, USA, mechanized cotton harvesting can help reduce the costs of production to levels that are competitive with those of synthetic textile fibers. It can also increase productivity, reduce risks, and improve profit margins.
1. Increased Efficiency
One of the biggest benefits of mechanized cotton harvesting is its increased efficiency. When mechanical cotton harvesters are properly operated, bolls are picked from the field more quickly than if they were hand harvested.
As a result, mechanical harvesting can be very productive, allowing farms to grow cotton in more areas than they would be able to if they used hand labor. This increased efficiency is especially helpful in the case of small-scale family farmers, who typically have limited access to resources and equipment.
Another benefit of mechanized cotton harvesting is that it reduces labor costs. During the harvesting process, a farmer will only need to hire workers for a few hours at a time, compared to several days of manual work, reducing the overall cost of the cotton crop.
This decrease in labor costs also results in reduced labor turnover and more efficient use of resources. In addition, it allows a farmer to increase production by planting more seeds in the same amount of land.
Besides increased productivity, mechanized cotton harvesting can also improve quality. For example, the mechanical harvester can remove many leaves and stems from the plant, resulting in a cleaner crop.
In addition, these machines can help maintain soil moisture levels during the growing season, ensuring that the cotton plants will stay healthy and produce bolls with good color and fiber. This can be especially beneficial if a farmer plans to sell the cotton at a later date.
The +Cotton project aims to make mechanized cotton harvesting feasible for smallholders in Latin America and the Caribbean. To achieve this goal, Embrapa Cotton is working on developing a low-cost one-row cotton picker that can be connected to a tractor and replicated by smallholders. Once validated, the prototype could become a viable option for smallholders in the region.
2. Reduced Labor Costs
In the past, cotton farming involved a lot of labor. Hand labor was used for weeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. Eventually, the cotton picker became available to farmers, enabling them to harvest cotton with minimal human intervention.
The mechanical cotton harvester was the key to achieving the transformation of cotton production from small-scale, backward agriculture to modern, capital-intensive, and more profitable farming. It revolutionized the way in which the South could cultivate cotton.
Until World War II, most of the cotton produced in the southern US was picked by hand, though sharecropping prevented many of these operations from being mechanized. Nevertheless, a few farms used machines to harvest cotton.
There were two types of mechanical cotton harvesters: the thresher type and the stripper type, both of which used a statically charged belt or finger to draw lint from the boll. The thresher type was much more expensive than the stripper, which was considerably less expensive.
The thresher type required about three man-hours to harvest an acre of cotton, whereas the stripper required only 2 to 3 man-hours. In addition to reduced labor costs, the mechanized harvesting method allowed farmers to cultivate more land since it was easier to plant large fields with long rows.
The mechanized harvesting method also allows for a more even distribution of croplands because machines can be adjusted to pick any type of cotton. Moreover, it helps to avoid contamination of cotton with other materials that workers may transport to the field. This is particularly important in developing countries, where cotton farmers often use plastic packaging to transport their goods. These factors make the mechanized cotton harvesting process more attractive to consumers.
3. Increased Productivity
Compared to manual harvesting, mechanized cotton harvesting increases productivity in several ways. For example, mechanical harvesters can pick up more cotton per acre, and they are able to gather cotton in larger areas. They also do not require labor as much as hand pickers, which means they can help smallholders increase their crop production.
Another benefit of mechanized cotton harvesting is that it reduces the amount of waste that is produced in the field. This saves a lot of money and is especially important for farmers who do not have access to irrigation water, which can be expensive.
For this reason, mechanized cotton harvesting has been a good option for some farmers in Brazil and other countries in Latin America. For example, Embrapa Cotton has been working with ABC/MRE and FAO to develop a low-cost machine that is easy to operate.
This machine resembles the type of harvester commonly used in the United States, which is known as a picker. In this type of harvester, spindles are attached to a drum that rotates at a high speed, and the spindles enter the plant and pick the open cotton bolls.
The picker-type harvesters have a lot of potential to improve productivity in Latin America because it will allow the farmers to harvest cotton in smaller areas, which is difficult for them to do by hand.
In addition, it has a very low cost and can be easily replicated by smallholders. For this reason, it can become a very good alternative to manual picking for smallholders and their cooperative unions.
Although mechanized harvesting has many benefits, it has its drawbacks as well. For instance, it does not always harvest cotton with high grades. Weeds, vines, and grass in the fields can sometimes clog the mechanical harvesters, leading to stoppages and high losses of the cotton harvest. Furthermore, mechanized harvesting can be a very expensive and time-consuming process.
4. Reduced Risks
There are a number of benefits associated with mechanized cotton harvesting. These benefits include reduced risks and fewer environmental hazards. For example, pesticide residues are less harmful to human health when they are harvested with a mechanized machine. Additionally, mechanized cotton harvesting reduces the risk of contaminating the fibers of the wool with pesticide residues.
In addition, mechanized cotton harvesting also improves the quality of the fibers, which is important to both farmers and mills. The quality of the cotton is directly related to its market value, as it determines the price a farmer can expect to receive for his crop. In addition, it is important for the mills to be able to process cotton with minimal defects.
Moreover, mechanized harvesting can help decrease the cost of production for farmers. For instance, it can help reduce labor costs by enabling farmers to work in a single area. This will allow them to harvest a much larger area of cotton in a short amount of time.
However, mechanized cotton harvesting is not without drawbacks. For one, it is not always easy to transport the cotton from the field to the gin. Furthermore, the gin can be hampered by grass and other debris that can tangle with the fibers of the cotton.
The gin can also be contaminated by dust and other pollutants that the cotton pickers breathe in. These can cause a variety of illnesses, including gastrointestinal problems and skin irritation.
Fortunately, mechanized cotton harvesting is becoming more common among farmers. It is expected to become even more popular in the future, as it can improve efficiency and productivity while reducing the time it takes farmers to process their cotton. This will also save them money and time, which can be used for other productive purposes.
5. Increased Profits
Increasing cotton production is pushing farmers to invest in mechanized equipment. This is particularly true in South-East Asia, the world’s largest cotton-growing region.
The initial benefits associated with mechanized cotton harvesting include increased efficiency and reduced labor costs, which translate into an increased income for the farmer. In addition, mechanized equipment is more durable and provides greater flexibility for crop growth and yield changes.
Another important benefit is the reduced risk of contamination. When the cotton is harvested manually, it can become contaminated with chemicals or other materials that the workers carry to the farm. This can reduce the quality of the finished cotton and make it unsellable.
In the United States, about 99% of cotton is harvested using large, heavy mechanical harvesters. This type of harvesting process is efficient and effective, but it also has several drawbacks.
- The soil hydraulic conductivity of the field can be decreased due to the machine’s heavy weight. This is especially true for fields where the soil is not compacted.
- The extra moisture and trash from the machine-harvested cotton can complicate ginning, which leads to higher costs for the textile mill.
- The lint quality of the harvested cotton is not always high enough to meet textile standards.
- The cotton fiber can be damaged if exposed to extended heat and drought periods.
- The cost of the machinery itself can be prohibitive for some small farmers.
In order to make the most of mechanized cotton harvesting, it is important to select the right type of machinery for the farm. This requires carefully evaluating the farm’s needs and available land.