What is the difference between a cotton picker and a cotton stripper?
A picker does just that, it 'picks' the cotton from the boll by means of revolving spindles fingers or prongs without material damage to foliage or unopened bolls. And a picker usually is used more than once since cotton is a continuous fruiting plant during the growing season. A picker may make repeated trips through cotton as the bolls ripen.
Cotton strippers are used as a once-over harvest machine. Found in areas where weather conditions prevent repeated harvests, strippers 'pull' the entire boll, ripe or not or sever the stalk near the surface of the ground and take the entire stalk, together with cotton bolls into the machine and another machine is used to remove the burr and vegetative matter.
Conventional Cotton and Organic Cotton can be picked several ways. But before we go into picking let’s start from the beginning. From over 5,500 years ago bits of woven cotton cloth has been found in Peru, Pakistan, Mexico and India. Cotton was separated by hand, taking hundreds of hours. Handpicking cotton was extremely time consuming, which is one of the reasons the slavery in America existed before the civil war and the share cropper system after the civil was put into place. In the late 18th century, Eli Whitney invented the first mechanical cotton gin. His patent was not renewed in 1807. This revolutionized the cotton industry, allowing for much more cotton to be cleaned than by previous means. It is noted that his cotton gin could clean 50 pounds of cotton per day per operator, versus 1 pound per day per person by manual separation. For a better idea of how revolutionizing machine pickers are, an experienced farmhand can pick 20 cotton plants in 9 minutes. A modern day mechanical cotton picker can pick 1200 plants in 30 seconds.
In the early 1830’s, Cotton lead the growth of the American economy being the world’s first luxury commodity after sugar and tobacco. Eli Whitney's invention of the Cotton Gin, that removes the seeds from the staple fiber within the cotton boll revolutionized the production of cotton. By the 1900’s the United States grew 2/3rds of the conventional cotton used in the entire world and was our biggest export. In the late 1800’s New England used 283.7 million pounds of cotton, or 67% of all cotton used in the United States. Most cotton at that time was grown in the south, as the climate was right for gestational seed growth into a healthy mature cotton plant for harvest.
Not all cotton is created equal, cotton process and class is defined on fiber length, color, leaf grade, extraneous matter etc., so the picking process is vital to the quality of the cotton fiber. A cotton picker can create a faster harvest than a stripper, because the machine stops less and the stalks are more an average size. A cotton stripper is used in the Carolina’s and Texas to pick cotton. A stripper will take more than just the cotton boll therefore more debris will be surrounding the picked boils than with a cotton picker. Cotton pickers are used in New Mexico and California which yields a cleaner and longer cotton product. Strippers are used for shorter fibers, (lower quality) and Pickers are used for longer fibers (higher qualities). Hand picking of cotton is still done in Turkey, India, China and parts of Africa, and pickers are generally paid by the kilo.
The first attempts at a mechanical cotton picker or combine were patented as early as 1850. These patents were reworked and perfected over the next 100 years. There were over 1,800 different patents issued for items used for cotton harvesting. None of them were successful until International Harvester built the Model "H-10-H" in 1942. Because of restrictions on steel, IH couldn't begin producing its cotton combine in quantity until 1948. By then, they had come up with an updated model dubbed the "M-12-H." This picker could make several trips through the field only picking bolls that were opened. International Harvester also developed a commercial cotton stripper, but it was then perfected by Johnson Manufacturing Company who invented the two-row, tractor-mounted, finger stripper in the 1930’s. The stripper picks all cotton bolls ready or not.
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