A national shortage of cotton pickers, coupled with a bumper crop, has forced some growers in Central Queensland to turn to old school cotton pickers, to finish off their remaining crop.
Some Central Highlands cotton growers have pulled out their old basket pickers, boll buggies and old-school module builders from out of the sheds, due to the lack of pickers.
Demand for cotton-picking contractors skyrocketed this season, due to a record crop put in and weather-disruptions to the cotton pick down south.
Emerald's Renee Anderson said about 80 per cent of farmers in her area have finished cotton picking.
Her family is currently in the process of picking the last of her December-planted 205ha crop.
With the help from some of her neighbours, the Andersons have had three module builders, two basket pickers and two boll buggies operating in the past couple of weeks.
Ms Anderson said most growers in the region have struggled to get cotton-picking contractors this season.
"With the bumper cotton crop and the lucrative price for cotton this season, there were a lot more people who haven't grown cotton, growing cotton this season," Ms Anderson said.
"A lot of the contractors have been sent down south, where there growers down there have experienced weather disruptions to their pick.
"We were just lucky that we still have these old pickers in the shed, and we're able to service them, and get them running again, to finish our crop off in time.
"It's very old school and it's how it used to be done, but it's just been really beneficial to use them this season."
Currently, when cotton is picked it is pressed into round bales and wrapped in plastic.
Before the round bale pickers were introduced, cotton would be picked and go into a basket on the back of a picker, where a boll buggy would then pick it up and take it to the module builder where it would be pressed into rectangular modules.
Ms Anderson said growers who don't usually have a crop in and aren't in the business of buying a new $1.5 million cotton picker, prefer to use the old-style machines or rely on contractors.
"Growers in regions that have had limited cotton due to drought or lack of water, still have these old basket pickers in the shed," she said.
"If you haven't had a full crop in for many years, it's a significant cost to the business to go out and just buy a new picker.
"Especially going into another season where we don't have any allocation, it's not something that growers are looking at purchasing at the moment.
"It's also been quite difficult getting new pickers into the country, with the challenges of the supply chain."
With a basket style picker, the machine harvests the cotton and a boll buggy hauls the cotton away from the harvester and deposits it in a module builder, which compresses the cotton and prepares it into a large rectangle bale.
In comparison, a round module weighs about two and a half tonnes, whereas a 40 foot module is around 15-16 tonnes.
The Andersons 40 foot module builder can hold up to five to six cotton loads from the boll buggy.
"A module builder is essentially a very large hydraulic press, which compacts the cotton into the module," Ms Anderson said.
"It fits on the back of a flatbed truck and about five to six loads of the boll buggy goes into it.
"Some module builders are completely automatic and they don't need a person operating the hydraulic levers, it has a little computer at the front and it just goes off and does its own little thing."
Ms Anderson said that a basket cotton picker picks in exactly the same way as a modern round bale picker does.
"We've been putting the modules in a high paddock in case it did rain and it needed to be easy for the truck to get to," she said.
"We were carting the picked cotton back to the module builders and that can take a little bit longer so at times, I was sitting in the picker just waiting for them to come back to me.
"It takes about two or three hours to make a module and we've got really big tarps that go over the top of them."
From there, the modules are picked up by a chain-bed truck and carts them to cotton gin.
Ms Anderson said the old-style pickers were a more labour-intensive harvesting process, compared to the modern picking machine, which were adopted immediately to fix the labour shortage on-farms.
"The new pickers have been in use for about 10 years and further south where they grow cotton regularly, they were adopted almost immediately because they solved one of the largest issues that most farms have, the workforce component," she said.
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