Cotton Harvesting Process
The harvesting process is one of the most important parts of the growing season for cotton farmers. It’s important to do everything possible to ensure the crops are harvested safely and successfully.

Extension staff can help producers identify harvesting equipment configurations that maximize their crop’s potential. A Web-based program, the Cotton Harvesting Cost Calculator (CHCC), can help them calculate the least-cost stripper or picker harvesting system based on their individualized production scenario.

Planting Dates

Choosing the right planting date is one of the most important decisions in optimizing your cotton harvesting process. This decision can have a significant impact on the entire season. Choosing a planting date that balances the need for a vigorous crop with the need for a longer growing season is critical.

To optimize the emergence and germination of cotton, soil temperatures should be 65 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Soil temperatures below this level can decrease germination and vigor and negatively affect the final crop's quality.

The optimum planting date will depend most heavily on the variety type and maturity level. For full-season, more indeterminate varieties, the optimum time to plant is about 700 HU/1 Jan. (Human units of a degree of accumulated temperature at 1 January). For medium-maturity varieties, the optimum time to plant is 800 HU/1 Jan.

It is also essential to use a high-quality seed and be aware that some seed companies list the variety's resistance to certain diseases and pests on the plant tag or in the seed catalog. For example, a cultivar labeled “V” may be resistant to Verticillium wilt disease, while a cultivar with the initials "N" or "F" is resistant to nematodes and Fusarium wilt disease.

In addition, a sound fertility program is crucial. Soil testing should be conducted to determine the field's recommended nitrogen, phosphate, and potash rates. Nitrogen should be applied as needed, usually at 60 to 80 pounds per acre.

If the field has not been previously cultivated, or the planting is a second crop, then growers should only apply fertilizer once the soil temperatures have reached the desired level. During this time, it is critical to avoid excessive nitrogen applications, which can exacerbate rank growth in the field.

As with all decisions regarding management practices in the field, a decision to plant late is not without risk. However, it is possible to obtain acceptable yields if timely management practices are followed, and weather conditions remain favorable.

Preparing the Field

Preparing the field for harvesting is one of the most important parts of any crop production operation. Proper soil preparation can improve crop yields and reduce production costs.

The best way to optimize your cotton harvesting process is to prepare the field early in the spring. This includes performing necessary tillage operations, ensuring all equipment is adjusted and ready for use, and determining the optimal timing for the first harvest.

To prepare the soil, growers should use various methods, including deep primary and secondary tillage. This will conserve soil moisture and provide a firm, well-drained seedbed conducive to seed germination and growth of the cotton plant.

Tillage also helps to control weeds and grasses and breaks down hard pans of dirt in the subsoil. The proper tillage of the soil can also conserve water and prevent erosion.

In addition to tillage, farmers should ensure the crop receives the nutrients it needs to grow. This can include Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), and trace elements such as iron, boron, magnesium, sulfur, and zinc.

Soil tests should be performed to determine the soil's nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels. Using nutrient analysis can help determine the amount of fertilizer needed to achieve optimal results.

Farmers often use nitrogen-based fertilizers before planting to maximize yields and keep the crop healthy. However, these chemicals can stress the cotton plant and cause defoliation that may affect lint quality in the finished product.

After planting, farmers should apply harvest aids that can help protect the crop from rain and other weather-related stresses. Some harvest-aid products are designed to reduce lint stickiness, while others help reduce the emergence of insects that may attack cotton plants.

The cotton bolls are harvested through the use of machines called cotton pickers and strippers. Both machines use rotating spindles to pick and twist the cotton from the open bolls on the stalk. The seed cotton is then transferred to a module builder, which packs the seed cotton into large cubes that weigh approximately 20,000 pounds each.

Picking the Cotton

The cotton harvest is one of the most important times of the year for farmers, representing the final opportunity to reap their hard work. The crop is sensitive to weather and pests, so the harvesting process should be as smooth as possible.

Choosing when to pick cotton is important in optimizing your cotton harvesting process. Ideally, you should wait until at least 30-35% of your bolls have opened fully to begin picking. This will ensure you get the best yield from your cotton crop.

Hand-picking cotton is a slow and labor-intensive process, but it also helps preserve the crop's fiber characteristics. This can benefit countries where climate conditions can negatively affect crop quality, particularly after the bolls have opened.

For this reason, many growers choose to pick cotton manually during the early stages of the crop. They may choose to do this multiple times throughout the season, as opposed to a single picking in the middle of the crop.

This will help minimize the damage that weather and other factors can have on the cotton crop, especially if you live in an area known for hot and humid summers. In addition, it will allow you to minimize the number of weeds in the field.

It is also important to ensure your cotton picker is in proper working order before harvesting your crops. Getting your cotton picker in tip-top shape can significantly reduce the time it takes to harvest your cotton and increase your crop's yield.

The picker's spindles are another important component of the cotton harvesting process. Any damaged, deformed, or missing spindles can cause your cotton to not be picked effectively and yield fewer bolls than expected.

A cotton picker's spindles must be cleaned and lubricated before you use them. This will prevent debris from building up and causing the machine to break down or malfunction, ultimately leading to a poor yield. Additionally, if you notice any issues with your cotton picker's spindles, contact a trusted purveyor of cotton picker parts to have them replaced.

Drying the Cotton

Cotton is one of the world’s most popular and versatile fibers. It is used in various products, including clothing, bedding, and food. It is an important agricultural crop producing seeds, lint, and husks.

During harvest, a cotton crop is pulled from the field and blown into a cotton gin, where it is separated into different parts. The gin uses several cycles of heat to dry the cotton. It then separates the seed from the lint and cleans the husks.

When a cotton crop is fully mature, it can be harvested several times throughout the season. It is important to make the most of the growing season by picking cotton at its optimal maturity and harvesting it at the right time.

Timing and applying cotton harvest aids can help maximize yield, fiber quality, and net return to the producer. A timely harvest will minimize lint staining and trash and improve fiber quality.

Early application of boll openers and defoliants can reduce lint yield, micronaire, and fiber length by up to 10%. However, if these products are applied late in the season, they may be less effective.

Boll openers increase ethylene production within the boll, which accelerates opening and drying. They can be applied in combination with defoliants to maximize activity and speed up the plant’s ability to dry.

After a defoliant application, a desiccant can be applied to the cotton for faster drying and improved lint quality. This can be particularly important when honeydew is present late in the growing season, which may cause lint stickiness.

It is also recommended that the cotton be ginned as soon as it reaches an ideal moisture content. Modules and bales should be checked daily for excess moisture. Excess moisture can raise temperatures inside the module, which can harm lint grade and seed germination.

The gin is a huge operation and requires a lot of manpower to run efficiently. The cotton is transported from the field to the gin and then through a series of saws and brushes to separate the seeds from the lint. The lint is then cleaned and stored.