How is cotton picked today?

Today cotton is no longer picked by hand in a labor intensive setting which America was known for Cotton Ginback in the 1800’s. The use of modern day machinery is now replaced the manual pickers of yesteryear.

Today in America there are two different types of machines that are used in most of the cotton fields at harvest time. The first type is called the mechanical cotton picker. The outward appearance of this agriculture machine is similar to that of combine used for wheat and corn. It runs mechanical fingers on each cotton plant pulling the lint or cotton balls from the plant. While some leaves and branches to accompany the cotton in this process, a majority of the plant is left intact in the ground. This machine is used in most states where cotton is currently being grown in America.

The second way cotton is harvested occurs mainly in Texas. This is with the use of a machine called the stripper. Unlike the picker, this machine strips the plant of not only cotton but also the leaves and branches. This machine also resembles a combine in appearance. It also requires what is harvested to go thru a more intensive cleaning process to remove unwanted debris from the cotton.

Both of these cotton harvesting machines are capable of harvesting 6 rows of cotton at a time. This is a vast improvement on the old labor intensive hand picking method that is still being done in many countries around the world.

The stripping machine has continued to be developed. No longer does a tractor and trailer need to follow the picker in the field to recover the cotton as it is plucked off the branches. Today there is a compacting device at the rear of the picker to put the cotton that has been harvested into a bale. These bales are then placed in the field once they are of sufficient size. The bales can resemble the round type used for hay and stray by appearance. The strippers also have a compactor attached to them. This type of device then compacts the cotton into the shape of a bread loaf that can weigh up to 25,000 pounds. Both types of cotton bales are then retrieved at a later time from the field by the farmer. This style of harvesting is done in America along with Australia Israel, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain and Argentina along with a few other countries. This constitutes about 30% of the total cotton harvested annually.

Manual picking of cotton is prevalent in the remaining counties that produce it. China still 100% hand picks its cotton harvest as does India. Other major cotton producing countries that still use a large manual labor force for picking cotton as it was done in America in the 1800’s include Pakistan, Turkey and Brazil.

In 2013 over 110.1 billion bales of cotton were grown and processed. This amount varies from year to year but is remaining relatively constant. China is not only the largest importer of cotton in the world, but also the largest producer of this agriculture product.