Last modified on November 12th, 2021 at 9:49 am

Nature Facts: How is Cotton Harvested Today vs 100 Years Ago?

As you might expect, radical differences have emerged in the way that cotton is harvested today as opposed to methods used a century ago. Most of the differences are related to efficiency and speed of harvesting, and there is far less manual labor involved in the process than there used to be, all those years ago. To find out about some of the other significant differences in harvesting methods, continue reading below.

How is Cotton Harvested Today?

There are two primary modern methods of harvesting cotton on farms, and these include using mechanical cotton pickers or mechanical cotton strippers. Cotton pickers are the more dominant of the two machines, since they require less refining, cleaning, and ginning. A cotton picker will pull the lint from the cotton plants, while leaving the entire remainder of the plant intact. Cotton picking machines are used in the Far West, the Mid-south, and the southeast.

In some areas of the high plains throughout Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, cotton strippers are still used by some farmers, even though they pull more of the plant inside the machinery, which will of course necessitate more cleaning of the cotton. Modern machinery for cotton picking can routinely harvest six rows at a time, and the most advanced machinery is capable of compacting the cotton right on-board.

This means it’s able to press the processed cotton into a module right as the machine progresses through the field. The advantages of this kind of approach to cotton harvesting are very obvious, and for that reason, these kinds of sophisticated cotton pickers are quickly becoming the standard method for cotton harvesting in this country.

In addition, most of the advanced countries of the world which harvest cotton, for instance Brazil and Australia, are also adopting the on-board cotton processing machinery as their standard. Modern cotton harvesting equipment is much faster than equipment used at any prior time, which is important for getting a crop harvested before bad weather can damage it. Because much more is known about the characteristics of the cotton plant these days, machinery has been produced so as to pick much cleaner than it used to, so there’s less waste and less cleaning needed.

How was Cotton Harvested 100 Years Ago?

Prior to the 1930s, all cotton in this country was harvested by hand, and that was a considerable undertaking. Because not all of the cotton bolls would mature at the same time, it was necessary to make several passes through the fields in order to get them at just the right time and to leave no cotton bolls unharvested. This was extremely labor-intensive, and it would often leave workers with bloodied hands because they would be pricked by the sharp spikes on the cotton plants.

At the time of the Civil War, there was simply no alternative to this labor-intensive approach to harvesting cotton, and that meant it was absolutely essential to have a cheap labor force available to harvest the cotton. While there were numerous attempts at building a cotton harvesting machine from the period between 1850 and 100 years later, it wasn’t until 1942 that the first viable cotton harvester was built by International Harvester.

However, this was during the middle of World War II, and all steel was being allocated into weaponry, so that no cotton harvesters were produced in quantity. By the time 1948 rolled around, International Harvester had developed a much improved model which was known as the M-12-H. Between 1948 and 1970, cotton crops in this country went from zero mechanical harvesting to 96%, which is an astounding transformation for the industry.

By this time, machinery had been refined and improved to a great degree, and much more was known about cotton plants themselves, so that mechanical harvesting could be much more efficient. For instance, it was possible to develop cotton plants which were higher off the ground, so that mechanical harvesters could be more effective.

Scientists also helped out by developing new cotton plants which ripened all at the same time, so that it wasn’t necessary to make multiple passes through the field. Essentially, this allowed the number of man-hours necessary per acre to be reduced from 125 to 25, and this had a major social impact as well. This allowed many blacks in the South to abandon the cotton fields and head to the urban northern cities to find jobs.

When was the Cotton Picker Invented?

The first workable cotton picker was invented by a man named John Rust, who came up with an initial version of the machine in the late 1920s. By 1933, Rust had earned his first patent on a cotton-picking machine, and he would go on to acquire 47 more patents related to cotton harvesters. However, this was the period of the Great Depression, and very little money was available for the development and investment of the machinery.

The Rust design for cotton pickers was adapted by other companies such as international Harvester and Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. Improvements in design and efficiency occurred rapidly after 1948, and over the next 20 years, it became possible to harvest all cotton by mechanical means.

Even though the first cotton pickers could only harvest one row at a time, they were still capable of replacing as many as 40 manual laborers. From these early mechanical harvesters, cotton harvesting equipment has gradually been improved, while farmers have also learned much more about the cotton plant itself. Together, these two factors have combined to make cotton harvesting extremely efficient and much faster in the modern world.

High-Quality Aftermarket Parts for All Your Harvesting Needs

The efficiencies gained by the sophisticated machinery and innovative harvesting methods can only impact your harvesting process if your equipment is in the fields and running at peak performance. In order to do that, you’ll need to have access to all the high-quality replacement parts which are necessary to keep your harvesting equipment operational. Contact us at Certi-Pik, USA whenever you need reliable, high-performance replacement parts and accessories for your cotton harvesting equipment.