Southern Regional Project Contributions to Cotton Mechanization

J. R. Williford


The era of cotton mechanization is difficult to define and date. From one perspective, cotton mechanization started with the development of the cotton gin in the late eighteenth century when machinery started to replace hand labor to separate the lint and seed. But cotton farming really didn't change significantly for the next hundred years. The farmer still relied on man and animal power to produce and harvest the crop. The introduction of the row-crop tractor in the 1920's helped to reduce labor requirements for plowing and cultivation. As the number of tractors increased, one man could grow more cotton than he and his family could harvest. The pattern of cotton production changed from a share-cropper system toward greater use of seasonal labor. The introduction of the first commercially successful mechanical harvesters in the early 1940's is generally understood as the beginning of the cotton mechanization era. By the mid 1960's, practically all of the cotton produced in the US was mechanically harvested.

With the introduction of the McCormick-Deering mechanical harvester in 1943 and the greatly increased availability of the harvesters soon after World War II, the pressure to completely mechanize the production and harvest of cotton was on. The harvester solved some problems but created others. For the harvester to be successful, other machines and production practices had to be developed and adapted to the harvester's needs. More foreign matter was taken to the gin. Defoliants and desiccants were needed to prepare the plant for harvest. New plant types were needed along with better weed and insect control. Cotton mechanization became more than just replacing human and animal power with machinery power. It spanned the total production process including plant breeding, field arrangement and contour, crop residue management, seedbed preparation, planting, fertilization, pest control, irrigation, defoliation, harvesting, and ginning.

The research community quickly responded to the need for research in all areas of cotton production, harvesting, and ginning. It was in this setting that the first Regional Cotton Mechanization Projects were initiated. The first Southern Regional Project (S-2) was established in 1947 under the Research and Marketing Act of 1946 and the first Western Regional Project (W-24) was established in 1953. The basic premise behind the Regional Projects was to bring together a significant core of resources on a regional basis to meet the research needs of the cotton industry while reducing duplication of efforts. The Southern Regional Projects were continued until 1989. A Southern Regional Information Exchange Group was organized in 1989 and terminated in 1992. The research conducted under the umbrella of these regional projects had significant and far-reaching influence on cotton mechanization.

The objective of this paper is to highlight some of the major contributions engineers and scientists made to cotton mechanization through the Southern Regional Project research system.

Reprinted from Proceedings of the 1994 Beltwide Cotton Conferences pp. 556 - 558
©National Cotton Council, Memphis TN

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Document last modified Sunday, Dec 6 1998