A fire that starts on a cotton picker may be minor if the operator reacts correctly. However, poor decisions and reactions may result in a total loss of the picker and any cotton in the machine or surrounding areas. A picker fire that begins as a smoldering mass of trash and lint can become uncontrollable in as few as 3 minutes. In as few as 15 minutes, a cotton picker can become almost unrecognizable – tires burned off and bars melted into puddles under the row unit cabinets. Large amounts of grease in row units, high-pressure hydraulic oil, and diesel fuel accelerate a fire once lines and tanks rupture.
You may be forced to make snap decisions regarding risk of personal injury or saving the picker from a total loss. The best course of prevention is due diligence in recognizing and eliminating or minimizing conditions that often result in a fire on the picker:
Operator training and practice are vital in fire prevention and control. Operators must learn how to react to a fire on a cotton picker before it happens, as well as how to use fire extinguishers and other fire-control resources. Read and understand the operator’s manual section for fires for the cotton picker to be operated. The following steps are suggested as ways of reducing fire losses:
Customize the following procedures for the picker you are operating and practice it as part of fire prevention training:
Properly cleaning and servicing the cotton picker each night or morning will result in better performance and lower potential of fire throughout the day. Most producers do a thorough cleaning from top to bottom before greasing, adding fluids, and inspecting and repairing. There are several cleaning methods, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Check engine oil and coolant levels before starting the picker’s engine for the first time in the morning, but be mindful of the following safety rules:
Use a broom or your hands to remove large accumulations of lint and trash in the basket or bale chambers. Do this chore any time during the day when waste buildup becomes a fire hazard or if a sensor indicates a false condition. Although it is time-consuming, it can be very effective to go ahead and clean the whole basket/chassis area.
Inspect all sensors and remove any lint tags to prevent false indications. One advantage of hand cleaning is that wiring components are less likely to be harmed by mechanical damage, water from high-pressure washing, or compressed-air removal techniques.
Many producers use low-pressure water from home or commercial water systems to wash trash from the row units. This method is effective, but it requires an extreme amount of time on larger multiple-row pickers. It also wets the ground around the picker, increasing the chance of slip and fall injuries. Some producers use a water trailer with a portable pump to clean the picker, add spindle-cleaning solution, and extinguish fires. These units spray a lot of water at low pressure, so plan to clean more with volume than pressure.
High-pressure washing is effective at removing trash and grease in row units and is much faster than hand or low-pressure washing. Unfortunately, the water stream can damage seals, wet the ground around the picker, break or unplug wiring harnesses, and force dirt and water into some bearings and grease in gear cases. Always wear adequate personal protective gear – hat, gloves, rain suit, protective eyewear, and boots with slip-resistant soles – when pressure washing a picker. Never direct a flow from a pressure washer towards humans or animals. High-pressure washing is particularly effective at removing grease and trash accumulations inside the row-unit cabinets. It is usually best to wash the tops of the row units last and then move the picker to a dry area before further servicing.
High-volume, high-pressure air (150-250 cfm and 125 psi from an industrial air compressor) is very effective at removing trash and lint buildup from a picker. Lower volume compressors can be effective with their airflow magnified and pressure kept at a safe level (not more than 30 psi at the discharge) with a venture type of nozzle. Volume is directly proportional to cleaning power. A heavy air hose (about 3/4 to 1 inch) with a stiff wand (pipe nozzle) is used to direct air where it is needed. This equipment can be very heavy for anyone using it on top of the picker. A dead-man valve should be attached to the nozzle to prevent the air hose from whipping around if you drop it.
Always wear personal protective equipment, including eyewear, gloves, boots, long pants, long-sleeve shirt, hearing protection, and respirator or dust mask. Air is less likely than water to break wiring and otherwise damage the picker, but it is still a danger. Do not direct high-volume/high-pressure airflow at radiator fins, hydraulic oil coolers, bearings and seals, electrical and glass components, and air-conditioning lines and condensers. The blast of air can force grit into bearings and grease seals and can break glass, damage seals, and puncture or bend thin components. You can better clean out grease and trash inside row-unit cabinets by operating the unit in a slow idle tethered mode and flushing the moistening system periodically. The ground stays relatively dry, reducing mud and slipping injuries. Never use high-pressure air systems to blow dust and dirt from personnel. After overall cleaning of the picker chassis is done, clean the lights and cab glass inside and out with a good glass cleaner and a cloth or towel. Inspect all lights for proper function, and repair or replace as needed. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures closely for cleaning your particular make and model of picker. John Deere provides a DVD entitled “7760 Cotton Picker Cleaning & Operation # N382998” for specific instructions on cleaning, servicing, and operating the round-module picker. Service the picker as needed for greasing (see operator's manual), and add fuel, coolant, engine oil, spindle grease, and spindle solution as needed. Round-module picker owners usually replenish the supply of plastic wrap when servicing is complete.
After the bolls open, dry, and fluff, the moisture of seed cotton during harvest has the greatest potential impact on fiber quality until it is ginned. Deciding when to start harvesting is sometimes complex, especially with weather forecasts uncertain beyond a few days. The main things to consider in this decision are the factors that affect lint quality and your revenues. Most growers will schedule harvest 10-14 days after the first application of defoliants. Daily temperatures, soil moisture, defoliant selection, and boll maturity and plant condition when defoliants are applied may shift harvest a few days earlier or later. Several moisture sources impact storage and quality:
Daily temperatures, soil moisture, defoliant selection, and boll maturity and plant condition when defoliants are applied may shift harvest a few days earlier or later. Several moisture sources impact storage and quality:
Most of these factors will also reduce picking efficiency. Unless extreme conditions occur – such as delayed harvest late in the season – do not operate pickers when relative humidity is above 70% (lint moisture of 8% or greater). Do not pick until all free moisture from dew or rain has dried from the lint. Heavy morning dews extend the time required for seed cotton to become sufficiently dry.
The “seed cotton moisture vs. relative humidity” figure shown above suggests a relative humidity pattern a grower might expect for a typical late-September fall day. Note that by 8:00 p.m. most nights the relative humidity exceeds 70%. Relative humidity patterns vary from this chart for atypical days, daylight saving time, and earlier or later days in the harvest season. Non-Rain-Belt regions will have dramatically lower night humidity, enabling earlymorning, late-evening, or night picking to be successful.
Seed cotton containing 12% or less total moisture will usually store for extended periods without quality loss. Green leaf and damp seed usually raise seed cotton moisture above 12%.
Assess the moisture content of lint and seed before starting harvest each morning:
Excessive green plant material in the harvested seed cotton is another reason to delay harvest, usually several days. Green vegetation stains the seed cotton in storage and requires ginners to increase heat, which may damage fiber quality. Harvesting clean and dry seed cotton reduces drying and cleaning at the gin and attains the highest possible fiber quality considering varietal characteristics and seasonal weather.
Row-unit chokes can become very expensive. Frequent chokes may reduce field efficiency by more than 10%, increasing seed cotton losses and costs to the grower and/or picker owner. Several factors affect the frequency of chokes: crop conditions, picking high-moisture seed cotton, the picker’s air system capability, and keeping the row units and conveyance system cleared of dirt, trash, grease, and sticks.
Row-unit chokes can occur while picking in high-humidity conditions, in early morning and late evening, and within the first hour after greasing row units. Higher moisture seed cotton is heavier, requiring a higher air-conveying velocity. Excess spindle-cleaner solution collects on the surfaces of the row-unit cabinet, causing seed cotton to stick. Excess grease can seep out of the spindle nuts and accumulate where seed cotton is conveyed; this buildup collects trash and seed cotton, causing resistance to rapid cotton movement.
Techniques for reducing or eliminating chokes include beginning the day with clean row-unit cabinets, lowering spindle cleaner application rates, using a slower ground speed, and using smaller and more frequent grease applications. Dry, brittle crop conditions, possibly resulting from a freeze, may cause limbs and stalks to break off and plug row units. Slower harvest speeds and delaying harvesting until temperatures exceed 32°F may solve, or at least reduce, this problem.
NOTE: The recommended procedure (see your operator’s manual) is to stop the picker, lower row units completely, switch fans off, place the hydrostat control in park, set the brake, allow the engine to idle to cool for a few minutes, stop the engine, exit, lock and remove the key from the door, dismount the picker, and remove the choke, leaving the seed cotton in the row middle.
No amount of seed cotton and time saved is worth death or injury while trying to clear a choke. Picker row units can fall and trap you, and a picker left in gear can crush or roll over you. Be careful opening row-unit doors. Be alert to the possibilities that the choke may have started a fire or that an animal may be entangled but still capable of biting or scratching. Only an operator properly trained and shown how to clear chokes should practice the following procedure:
If you observe a consistent problem of chokes over several days of picking within a particular row unit, you might solve the problem with an inspection of the fans, fan drives, air-delivery ducts, cabinet obstructions, and conveying ducts. Row-unit chokes are common when moisture accumulates on the doors as a result of high spindle moistener application rates, too frequent moistener system flush operation, and/or over-greasing the bars (if grease and trash accumulates inside the cabinet). Picking rows from the opposite direction when second picking or picking extremely dry or brittle plants affected by a freeze may prompt excessive chokes due to broken limbs lodging in the doors or air-duct entries.
A record of breakdowns, chokes, and possibly the remedies can be extremely valuable in improving later operations. At a minimum, records should include the following:
Use these notes to expedite ginning of certain modules. Review the notes before initiating repairs, focusing on identifying and correcting the most frequent problems.