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History of John Deere Cotton Pickers

John Deere is one of the most recognizable brands in agriculture. The company began in 1837 when its namesake, John Deere, moved to Illinois and opened a blacksmith shop in Grand Detour. He manufactured pitchforks, shovels and other tools. When he converted a steel saw blade into a self-scouring plow and manufactured products before they were ordered, he changed the industry. This pioneering spirit would go on to put his company ahead of others who were making agricultural implements. Today, the John Deer company is known for tractors, combines, cotton pickers and many other agricultural products that help farmers be more efficient and productive.

Cotton Picking Before John Deere

Cotton picking was big business in the Southern states prior to the Civil War. Before the development of machinery, cotton had to be picked by hand. When the boll matured, the cotton would need to be picked before its quality deteriorated. Cotton bolls matured at different rates, which meant that the fields would have to be hand-picked multiple times by laborers.

Cotton farming was a source of conflict between the North and South. Cotton was one of the south’s main crops. Demand for the fiber was high. The United States provided two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton, making the American South an agricultural powerhouse. Still, the South’s economy depended on slave labor, which ultimately led to the War Between the States. There was interest in developing machinery to replace laborers, but nothing panned out until the 1920s. 

Creation of the Cotton Picker

Although the cotton gin invented by Eli Whitney in 1793 reduced some of the labor required to make cotton production profitable, there wasn’t a good way to pick cotton using a machine. Pulling cotton from the boll wasn’t as easy as it seemed. John and Mark Rust, who founded the Rust Cotton Picker Company in the 1930s held many patents on cotton picking equipment, but it was the Great Depression. Successful businesses struggled to receive financing. Businesses that were untested found it even harder. The brothers finally found the money to produce a cotton picker, that could harvest one row of cotton at one time, but one cotton picker could replace up to 40 laborers.

The introduction of the cotton picker and other machinery on the farm created less jobs for unskilled laborers. These laborers who couldn’t find work on farms moved to urban centers in search of jobs. This fueled the demand for machinery that would do the work of more laborers, driving the industry to create new technology to get more work done. However, with wartime restrictions on steel and other materials, it was difficult to produce domestic equipment.  When the war ended, agriculture was revolutionized. An increase in demand for food and a peacetime economy changed farm life. Manufacturers who had been producing war equipment were now able to produce items for the civilian market.

Cotton Picking through the 50s and 60s

International Harvester was instrumental in successfully creating a model that could pick the cotton from open bolls without damaging the plant. When the steel restrictions were lifted in 1948, it allowed the cotton picker to become more important on the farm. Cotton plant scientists developed varieties of the plant in which the bolls were higher off the ground. Combined with other agriculture inventions, mechanical harvesting boomed over the next decade. More unskilled laborers moved to the North as they were no longer needed on the farm. By the late 1960s, almost 96% of cotton was mechanically harvested, compared to almost 0% before the war. Ironically, the demand for cotton declined as scientists developed man-made fibers.

Cotton Picking Today

According to the USDA, cotton accounts for about 25% of the world’s total fiber use. The United States is the world’s third-largest cotton producer. The cotton industry generates over 125,000 jobs from farming to textile production and accounts for over $21 billion annually. None of this would be possible without equipment to keep cotton production profitable.

John Deere has a long history in agricultural products, that began with plows, but the company quickly branched out. Deere not only developed and manufactured farming equipment but acquired many companies that produced farming and harvesting equipment. It was in 1918 when Deere entered the tractor industry, selling over 5,000 gasoline-powered tractors in the first year. A little less than 10 years later, in 1927, the first combine came on the market. During the Depression, Deere took on farmer’s note and extended terms on machinery that had been purchased. Although the company lost sales in the early 1930s, farmers became loyal to the brand.

In 1950, John Deere entered the cotton picking market with the No. 8 Cotton Picker, a two-row self-propelled machine. In 1979, a four-row model was introduced, increasing productivity by over 85%. Modern cotton pickers can pick up to six rows. In 2009, another innovation reduced the need for additional equipment when Deere developed a cotton picker that builds cotton modules (similar to bales of hay) right in the field.

Today’s farmers use agricultural equipment and technology to boost production and get the best rates on their products. There have been tremendous changes in agriculture over the past few decades, especially in the cotton industry. Cotton has a huge demand in the textile industry. It’s estimated that the demand will increase by 4.5 billion pounds annually around the world every year. Fortunately, cotton is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Cotton is a drought-resistant plant and does not require a lot of water. With developments in cotton production and irrigation, farmers are using much less water to produce cotton. New technologies in farming equipment reduce CO2 emissions as the demand for mechanical equipment has increased. Hybrid varieties are reducing the need for pesticides, making the cotton crop even more eco-friendly than manmade fibers. The demand for cotton should only grow, especially with an increase in organic cotton.

Cotton Pickers Changed the Industry

Need parts for your cotton harvester? Contact Certi-Pik, USA to find high-quality replacement parts and other specialty items that keep your equipment running efficiently all through the harvest.

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