The first time a cotton producer saw a rectangular-shaped cotton module with a blue plastic tarp stretched over it, he probably thought, “My ginner will never go for this.”

Fast forward 25 to 30 years and imagine a grower seeing a new cotton picker-built, plastic-wrapped round module for the first time. His reaction — and his ginner's — might be much the same.

It may take some adjustments, but John Deere is banking on farmers and ginners growing as accustomed to the round unit produced by its new on-board module-building cotton picker as they have to today's conventional, tarp-covered full-sized modules.

“We asked cotton producers what they wanted from their cotton pickers,” says Jamie Flood, division manager, worldwide cotton marketing for Deere. “The first or the second thing at the top of their list was a simplified harvest scheme. It may take some getting used to, but we believe our new harvest system will do that.”

Deere's new plastic-covered module — four of which will equal a conventional module — also may offer other advantages growers and ginners will come to appreciate, especially when they consider the problems some have had with module tarps in the past.

Flood and representatives of Stover Equipment Co., Inc., the firm that is developing the Stover Unwrapper GIS (for Gin Improvement System) for handling the round modules at the gin, spent considerable time discussing the system with farmers attending this year's Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.

Deere has not announced a launch date for its module-building picker, although industry sources say it could occur as early as this fall. Case IH introduced its Module Express 625 picker last October.

For years, Deere has focused most of its efforts on marketing cotton pickers to the producer. But the on-board module builders are forcing Deere and Case IH to take a broader approach. (Case IH's 625 picker builds half-sized modules that can be hauled to the gin two at a time in module trucks.)

“Throughout the development of this new picker, we've taken a non-traditional approach in our design,” said Flood. “If you look back at John Deere and the cotton business, for 50 or 60 years the producer has been our customer. This new system really brings some significant change to that in that we now look at the entire cotton industry as a customer.”

Stover is no newcomer to providing cotton handling equipment to cotton gins. Jimmy Ray Stover, the company's founder, sold his first module builder in 1985 and Stover became the first to exhibit a module builder at the Gin Show in 1986.

Since then, the Corpus Christi, Texas-based company has expanded into module carts, module trucks and module feeders that allow gin operators to “walk” cotton modules into the gin on a moving floor rather than suctioning cotton from the module.

Stover was also one of the first companies to offer a module truck with tracks. “People said the tracks weren't going to work, but we went ahead and developed it and stayed with it,” he said. “Now I think all of our competition have tracks on their trucks.”

In 2003, Stover learned that Deere was considering producing plastic-wrapped modules with its new on-board module-building pickers. The new system offered an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

“They needed a vehicle that could haul plastic-wrapped modules without damaging the plastic,” he said. “We've done about 28 different designs, and we feel we've come up with one that can be used on the regular modules or on the mini-modules or the round, plastic-covered modules.”

Stover tested the patented design for two years. It's now standard on all of its module trucks.

“We know we can poke holes in it, but we're mainly interested in preventing slivers of plastic from staying on the chain mechanism and coming off later,” he said. “This is what John Deere requested when we started doing the changes, zero contamination.”

Deere envisions picker operators dropping plastic-covered, round modules at the end of the turn row without stopping. The modules can be positioned so that a module truck can back up and pick up four modules at a time and transport them to the gin. Growers can also use a front-end loader to place the round modules on a flat-bed for hauling.

The plastic wrapping is designed to prevent cotton from absorbing moisture from the ground or rain, problems that can lead to quality and weight losses in seed cotton.

“Square or rectangular modules are subject to taking on water from the top and the bottom,” said Flood, referring to the problem some growers have experienced with leaking tarps. “In the extreme, damage can become so bad the cotton is no longer fit for ginning or the damaged cotton has to be sliced off the bottom.”

A study by Texas A&M University researchers shows cotton in poorly built modules covered by worn tarps can lose up to $650 in lint value per module during storage. Leaking tarps can also cause quality problems that can reduce ginning rates by 50 percent or more.

“The protective wrap also contains the cotton,” says Flood. “We don't see the ‘shadows’ where loose cotton is left lying around the ginyard after modules have been hauled to the gin.”

Stover Equipment is also developing the mechanism that removes the plastic wrap from the round module after it arrives in the gin. A video prepared by Deere and Stover shows gin employees maneuvering the module into the mechanism. The latter lifts the module and turns it so the Stover Unwrapper GIS peels the plastic away from the cotton.

“We are trying to get that process completely automated,” said Stover. “We're close to it. The ones that you see here we're taking off by hand, but we have some things coming that will make it completely automated.”