John Deere has unveiled its new 7760 Self-Propelled Cotton Picker, giving dealers, ag media representatives and financial analysts a chance to see the on-board, round-module-building cotton harvester up close for the first time.

The 7760 was one of 15 new product or software lines Deere introduced during its annual dealer meetings in Cincinnati, Ohio, so many in fact that some who saw it may not have realized how significant the development of the new cotton harvester could be.

“This is truly a revolution in cotton harvesting,” Chris Ohnysty, manager, factory marketing at John Deere's Des Moines, Iowa, Works, told a group of editors and financial analysts who attended the introduction. “But this is not just a picker. This is a cotton harvesting system.”

The new system could help growers reduce their harvest labor requirements significantly by eliminating at least four other pieces of equipment — a boll buggy, a module builder and two tractors — and the laborers needed to operate them, he said.

The much-anticipated introduction of the round-module-building picker means farmers will have a choice of module-building harvesters for the 2008 season when Deere expects to have full production. Case IH began offering its new 622 Cotton Module Express picker last fall.

“At the beginning of this process, we asked growers what they wanted to see in a cotton picker,” said Ohnysty. “We asked them what is it that is most important to them as producers when it comes to harvesting.

“The answer that came back was they want a simplified harvest system that will allow them to get the crop out of the field faster, in a more effective manner, and still give them a high quality crop.”

Growers also want to see reductions in labor and the amount of equipment currently required for a timely and effective harvest. And they want machines that are “faster, wider and have more capacity.”

As most cotton farmers have heard by now, the new 7760 picker builds a round module while continuing to harvest cotton. When the cotton is formed into a round module from 36 inches to 90 inches in diameter, the machine wraps it in plastic and deposits it onto a transport reel.

“Without ever stopping the machine during picking, the operator can carry the module to the end of the field to be transported later to the gin,” says Jamie Flood, product marketing manager at John Deere's Des Moines works, where Deere will manufacture the new machines.

“This efficient, non-stop harvesting system eliminates unloading cotton into a boll buggy and processing it in a module builder,” he noted. “Ultimately, the producer saves time, fuel and manpower when harvesting and moving the cotton to the gin.”

In the 7760, cotton flows from the Pro-V picking heads into an accumulator that collects the cotton much like the basket on a conventional picker. The accumulator bay includes an automatic compacting auger and six feed rolls. The feed rolls ensure that a flat, evenly distributed sheet of cotton is fed into the round module builder.

“With a high-volume capacity of 320 cubic feet, the accumulator has the storage to allow the picker to harvest non-stop and at higher speeds in even the most arduous conditions,” says Flood.

Ohnysty says the new picking speed of 4.2 mph represents a 5 percent increase in the normal picking speed of about 4 mph on conventional pickers. The new picker has a scrapping speed of 5 mph, a field transport speed of 9 mph and a road transfer speed of 17 mph.

Sensors located at both the top and bottom of the accumulator monitor the cotton level and activate and deactivate the feed rolls and auger. This allows the harvester to continue picking while the round module is being wrapped and ejected onto the module handler.

“Those parts (in the module builder) aren't moving all the time,” says Flood, who was on hand for the rollout of the picker and several new models of tractors, combines, corn headers, forage conditioners and disks in Cincinnati. “That means less wear and tear and less need for replacing them.”

It takes roughly four accumulator loads to build a round module of 4,500 to 5,000 pounds of seed cotton. The finished module is 8-feet wide by 7.5-feet high so that it will fit inside a module-hauling truck. Each module is triple-wrapped in heavy-duty polyethylene to make sure the module stays together and retains its quality.

The 7760 has a new power train that includes a ProDrive Automatic-Shift, push-button transmission designed with a hi-low shift system. It has four new drive ranges that along with four-wheel-drive allow the operator to maintain optimum picking speed in difficult field conditions. The picker is powered with a new 13.5L John Deere PowerTech Plus engine.

“The 500-horsepower, turbocharged engine features a variable geometry turbo and exhaust gas recirculation to provide a cleaner-burning engine,” says Flood. “Growers said they wanted to be able to keep operating when conditions weren't optimum, and this drive train should allow them to do that.”

Farmers also want to be able to “run all day” without having to stop to refuel or replenish the picker water supply or lubricants, said Ohnysty. As a result, the 7760 has a 300-gallon fuel tank combined with a 360-gallon water-solution tank that will allow for 12 hours of continuous cotton harvesting. An 80-gallon picking unit lubrication tank also cuts down on lubricant refilling.

Studies show conventional pickers now spend only about 70 percent of their operating time on the row, harvesting cotton. Another 20 percent is taken up with waiting to unload, unloading and moving back to the row and 10 percent with transferring from field to field.

“The new 7760 Cotton Picker with an on-board module builder will be 90 percent effective because you eliminate the waiting time,” he said. “Spending less time dumping cotton and increasing the picker operating speed gives us a 26.7 percent increase in productivity.”

Ohnysty acknowledged the new system will require changes in cotton handling equipment at the gin. But Deere engineers believe those costs will be offset by eliminating cotton lint and quality losses that can occur on the turn row and in the gin yard.

“Studies show that you can leave 1 to 2 inches of cotton behind every time you move a module,” he said. “And gins sometimes have to skim damaged cotton from the bottom of the module when the cotton gets wet. Taking off 6 inches of cotton can equate to the loss of 453 pounds or almost a bale of cotton.”