5 Common Cotton Harvesting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The tough stems of cotton plants look a lot like tree trunks. That’s why the largest cotton pickers only harvest six rows at a time!

Weather is a farmer’s worst enemy. Rain can make lint mildewy or snag in the gin, and wind can blow it on the ground.

Wildlife can also be a problem. They can crush crops, remove matured cotton, or spread disease. And debris in the field can break the mechanical parts of harvesters.

1. Not Preparing the Field

Cotton requires well-drained sandy loam soil with a moderate concentration of organic matter and adequate levels of nitrogen and phosphorus to yield optimally. However, most of the cotton in the U.S. is grown on land that can’t meet those specifications due to a combination of factors like weather and urban encroachment. This limits growers’ field preparation options, so they often need to work with what they have.

The most important step in preparing the field for cotton planting is turning under as much organic matter as possible to improve soil tilth and increase water infiltration. This helps reduce weeds, fungus, and disease, which can impact yield. It also makes it easier for the plant to absorb nutrients.

Once the cotton plants are in the ground, farmers need to be careful about when they harvest. Harvesting at the right time is important so the fiber doesn’t lose quality. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong at this stage.

For example, if the weather is wet when harvesting, that can mess with the fiber. Wet cotton lint tends to jam up the picker and gin machines, which can lower the quality of the final product. It’s also possible that the wet lint will mildew, making it unusable for some purposes.

Another problem during this time is that the plant’s leaves may not shed properly. This can reduce lint quality by increasing the amount of leaf residue in the lint. And lastly, if the leaves aren’t dry when harvesting, they can become sticky, which also reduces lint quality.

2. Not Using the Right Equipment

When it comes to the cotton harvesting process, farmers need the right equipment to do the job properly. They typically use either cotton pickers or cotton strippers. Both machines play a big role in removing the cotton fibers from the bolls and making them ready to be used for clothing, bedding, and other products.

These machines use rotating spindles to twist the cotton lint off the plant and pull it away from the boll. If the lint is wet, it will be harder to remove and jam up the machine. This can lead to a decrease in the yield and quality of the cotton.

Farmers need to be careful about the timing of their harvests, too. They need to ensure the cotton is mature enough before they begin picking. This can be difficult since many factors affect the maturity of cotton, including weather, soil conditions, and cultural practices.

It’s also important to remember that the harvesting process can be dangerous. Lightning is a huge risk for those working in the field, as it can cause fires and damage to machinery. In addition, large metal attachments on tractors and cotton harvesters are perfect conductors of electricity, so they must be kept away from power lines and other electrical equipment.

Another thing that can be dangerous is wildlife in the fields. Wild animals and pesky insects can wander into the fields and get in the way of the harvesters. They may also damage the crop or injure people in the field. This is why farmers need to keep their fields clear of animals and other critters.

3. Not Taking Care of the Plants

The cotton plant is delicate, and it’s important for farmers to take care of their plants as they’re being harvested. This includes making sure that the bolls are opened and drying out properly.

A wide range of harvest aid products can be used on cotton, including boll openers, defoliants, regrowth inhibitors, and desiccants. These products are typically used with other factors to ensure the best quality lint is produced. For example, boll openers are often used to speed up the natural process of boll opening, while defoliants and regrowth inhibitors are used to help remove leaves from the plant before they can damage lint in a gin.

Another thing that can affect lint quality is the amount of rainwater in the field. This can cause the lint to strain toward the ground, called “stringout.” Stringout isn’t just unsightly – it can also reduce the price of cotton because it can’t be used for some of the more premium applications. This is why monitoring the weather closely and planning your harvest accordingly is so important.

4. Not Taking Care of the Machines

Nothing puts a harvester out of commission quicker than snagging something on the machinery like a wayward tool or misplaced debris. This can damage the machines and cause costly repairs, but it also prevents the harvester from working as efficiently as possible.

Leaving cotton in the field when it rains can lead to mildew, reducing its value. This can also affect the ginning process. The lint needs to be very dry to make it through the gin.

Lightning is a real danger when you’re in an open field with big metal equipment. It can strike you or the machine and create an electrical fire. Cotton plants are often at the highest point in the fields, making them the perfect target for lightning. This can destroy a crop and even injure workers.

5. Not Taking Care of Yourself

When harvesting cotton, it’s important to take care of yourself. 

Make sure that you’re wearing gloves and that your hands are protected from the sharp, prickly edges of cotton bolls. 

It’s also a good idea to wear protective eyewear, especially if you’re using a cotton picker. 

Also, be sure to turn off your machine if you need to stop working. 

Finally, don’t forget to apply a defoliation chemical to the plants before harvesting. This helps to eliminate any worms or other pests that might be eating your cotton. This will help you avoid losing valuable crop yields.