At the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in March, a two minute video at the Case IH exhibit showed a nicely packed, 6-7 bale module gliding out of the back of a red cotton picker working its way through a cotton field. No module builders or boll buggies were in sight. It was just the picker and the driver one minute and a module the next.

The video was of an on-board module builder that Case, Alamo, Tenn., cotton producer Jimmy Hargett and Perthshire, Miss., cotton producer Kenneth Hood have been testing for several years and is the same one that no one's been talking about for the same amount of time.

Hargett, interviewed at the gin show, was still pretty mum about it. Case IH officials said they couldn't even discuss why they couldn't talk about it. But they did say that the video was one way to gauge farmer interest in an on-board module builder. Their booth was one of the more popular stopping points at the gin show.

Outside the Cook Convention Center, where the gin show was held, Hargett, who we do know designed the on-board module builder with a piece of chalk on his shop floor several years ago, posed with a 6-7 bale module which was picked and packed in an on-board module builder. Two of the small modules will fit in a standard module truck.

Hargett has said that an on-board module builder will impact cotton production similarly to the cotton gin, module builder and center pivot irrigation. He says the machine, which is simply a module builder and a cotton picker rolled into one efficient machine, could save cotton producers about 4 cents a pound.

According to a paper presented at the 2004 Beltwide Cotton Conferences by Mississippi State University agricultural economist David Parvin, a cotton picker with an on-board module builder could save a cotton producer between 11 percent and 38 percent in total harvesting costs per acre.

Parvin used a budget generator to estimate the cost of harvesting cotton with current six-row harvesting technology versus a six-row picker with an on-board module builder. Parvin assumes the new technology will be available only on six-row pickers.

Harvesting machines for the study were priced at $275,000 for a conventional picker and $350,000 for a picker with an on-board module builder. “We also assumed that the picker with the on-board module builder would not significantly change the cost of hauling the seed cotton to the gin nor the cost of ginning. The analysis did not include scrapping.

How much a producer could save with an on-board module builder depends on farm size and yield.

For example, a cotton producer with 1,500 acres and an average yield of 800 pounds per acre would need one cotton picker, one boll buggy and one module builder to harvest with current technology, while one picker with an on-board module builder would be needed with the new technology.

A picker with an on-board module builder would require no tractors, one operator and one support laborer, while current technology would require two tractors, three operators and two support laborers. The total per-acre harvesting cost for current technology in this example was $58.77 versus $52.25 for a system using an on-board module builder, a difference of $6.52.

But as yield increases, savings increase significantly for the on-board module builder. According to Parvin's study, it would cost $84.78 per acre to harvest a 1,200-pound yield on 1,500 acres with current harvesting technology, an increase of $32.53 per acre over the 800-pound/1,500-acre example.

The conventional system would require five tractors, six operators and four support laborers. But costs for the on-board module builder remain at $52.25 per acre across all yield scenarios for the 1,500-acre farm. A 1,200-pound yield would require no tractors, one operator and one support laborer, the same requirements it had with an 800-pound yield scenario.

The real economics come from reductions in equipment and support staff, according to Parvin. For example, a producer with 12 four-row cotton pickers supported by 12 module builders and 12 boll buggies, 36 operator laborers and 24 support laborers, conceivably would need only six, six-row pickers with on-board module builders, six operator laborers and six support laborers, to harvest the same crop.