Background of Cotton Harvesting

Stripper-type harvesters were developed as a cost-effective alternative to hand pulling for harvesting cotton with short plant heights, relatively low yield, and closed or “stormproof” bolls. Limited growing-season rainfall and irrigation capacity, along with harsh weather conditions on the Southern High Plains, tend to produce crops with these problems. That’s why cotton producers in this region have widely adopted the stripper harvester.

Cotton harvesting machine configured with a finger stripper header (about 1963).


The stripping action harvests seed cotton from the plant by removing the entire boll along with leaves, branches, and other undesirable material. Early implements used a wooden sled drawn by a horse or mule to pull cotton off the stalk. The sled was designed to harvest cotton by pulling the plants through a tapered opening wide enough for the stalks to pass through but narrow enough to catch and remove open and unopened bolls. Most sleds harvested one row per pass, but multirow sleds were available. After “sledding,” farmers often piled cotton on the turn-row to allow unopened green bolls to open before ginning.

During the mid-1900s, American agriculture developed a great variety of farm machinery. Two prevalent harvester designs used the stripping action: the finger stripper harvester and the brush-roll stripper harvester. Finger stripper headers harvested cotton from crops planted in broadcast or very narrowly spaced row patterns. The brushroll stripper harvester harvested cotton planted on evenly spaced rows. It was widely used after cotton production practices began favoring rows spaced 30-40 inches apart. With harvesting efficiencies frequently over 99%, brush-roll-stripper harvesters allowed farmers to generate the most revenue from the cotton produced.

Cotton harvesting machine configured with a finger stripper header (about 1963).

The brush-roll cotton stripper harvester continues to be the main harvester used in southern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and the High and Southern Rolling Plains of Texas.1 Depending on crop conditions, stripping is sometimes used to harvest cotton in the Texas Blackland and Coastal Bend regions.

Over the years, the agriculture industry has developed specific production and preharvest practices to help producers get the most out of stripper-harvested crops. Although stripper harvesters are generally much less complex than spindle pickers, you still need to properly condition the crop for harvest, maintain/configure row units, adjust onboard field cleaners, and operate the machine to preserve fiber quality and optimize harvesting efficiency and productivity.


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