How to Harvest Cotton


It's been a long hot growing season, but it's finally time to get ready to harvest your cotton crop. That is, of course, if you managed to keep it safe from the squirrels and aphids. In most cases, you can begin harvesting cotton in early fall if you managed an early spring planting. However, you may have to harvest sooner than you would like, if plants are being threatened by late summer insects. Read on to learn more.

Things You'll Need

  • Cotton picker
  • Module builder
  • Keep a close eye on your cotton plants and be on the lookout for aphids and other insects that go after the bolls. You want to hold off harvesting until you have a good number of bolls that have matured and opened, but you may also sacrifice them to predators if you wait too long.

  • Defoliate your crop if it is large enough to require commercial equipment for harvesting. This should be done once you have several bolls on each plant that have opened. There are a number of chemicals on the market to choose from and organic methods as well. Defoliation is necessary to rid plants of excess vegetative growth allowing for a more efficient harvest. If you will be hand picking your cotton, defoliation isn't necessary.

  • Begin harvesting by using one of 2 types of commercial cotton pickers. The spindle type is the most common, however the brush stripper is still used in certain southern portions of the United States where plants tend to be small and compact.

  • Clear six to eight rows of cotton at one time and dump the cotton onto the ground when the picker basket is full.

  • Use a Module Builder to form the mound of cotton into a tightly compressed stack. This equipment hydraulically compresses the cotton and can hold the equivalent of 6 to 8 bales.

  • Leave the cotton in the field until you're ready to haul it to a cotton gin when the Module finishes compressing the cotton.

Tips & Warnings

  • Monitor your cotton plants closely all season and treat with insecticides if needed. These plants are particularly susceptible to weevils, aphids and whiteflies.

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