Lodinews.com

default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
|
||
Logout|My Dashboard

‘Like a harvester on steroids’ First-of-its kind cotton machine rolls out of Lodi

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2007 11:06 am | Updated: 11:38 am, Tue Oct 2, 2012.

If you saw a bright blue, tank-like machine traveling down Interstate 5 on Wednesday, don’t be alarmed.

It’s not a top-secret government project, or anything nefarious.

Instead, it’s another tool in the cotton picker’s tool box.

The first-of-its-kind thermal cotton defoliator rolled out of Lodi’s Ag-Industrial Manufacturing headquarters about 3 p.m., headed for the Terranova Ranch southwest of Fresno.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Paul Burkner, AIM’s vice president of manufacturing, as a half-dozen workers put the finishing touches on the 35,000-pound, 52-foot-long apparatus.

“It’s the biggest piece of equipment we ever manufactured here,” Burkner said, while at the company’s Beckman Road site. Roughly 50 workers have spent the past two years designing and building the defoliator.

AIM has built many of the region’s grape harvesting machines. Those are the tall, wide pieces of equipment that straddle and shake grape vines.

The defoliator — which can straddle six rows of cotton at one time — looks like a grape harvester, but juiced up.

“It’s like a harvester on steroids,” Burkner chuckled.

Regardless of its imposing appearance, the machine provides cotton farmers with an important function.

It gives them an alternative to chemical defoliation — the standard way growers remove a cotton plant’s leaves.

Foliage must be removed from the plant before harvest to prevent the cotton from being stained and devalued. The wet leaves can also jam machine harvesters, making the process slow and inefficient.

The thermal defoliator, however, solves those problems. It literally cooks the plant’s leaves as it passes over the cotton plants.

The dry leaves can then be easily removed about two days later, and the cotton picked clean, white and undamaged.

Eliminating the use of chemical sprays is one of the machine’s big pluses, especially as growth pushes farms and cities closer together, advocates for the thermal machine said.

“There’s a chemiphobia in the general public,” said Paul Funk, an agricultural engineer for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Cotton Research Center. “This is one way to defoliate (cotton) without using chemicals.”

Def, Folex and Ginstar are among the common chemicals used. Defoliating sprays pose health risks for people, and can harm water and air quality, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The USDA partnered with Lodi’s AIM and the Propane Education and Research Council to produce the machine. The propane council largely financed the work, hoping to create a larger market for natural gas during the summer months.

A 499-gallon propane tank fuels the machine’s six heaters. Funk noted that propane is cleaner for the environment than the chemical sprays now used. He added that the machine’s heat ducts capture and reuse much of the hot air it produces.

Down south at Terranova Ranch, in the farming community of Helm, Don Cameron said he’s been looking forward to the machine’s arrival.

The ranch’s general manager said the machine will be put to use with this season’s harvest.

Terranova has 80 acres of organic cotton. To keep its official ‘organic’ status, the ranch can’t use chemical sprays on the plants.

Thus, the machine is really their only option.

“We’ve been looking forward to this for a couple years now,” Cameron added. “We think we’re going to be able to use this on conventional cotton as well.”

Burkner, of AIM, said he’s hopeful the company will have future orders for the machine.

He noted it’s too early to tell, however, how the market will respond to the product.

Its total price tag is more than $400,000, he added.

While the propane council paid for the machine’s parts, AIM invested much of its time and money into the project, Burkner said.

He noted his company does not expect to make a profit from it.

There aren’t any large-scale cotton farms in San Joaquin County. But roughly a million acres of the crop are farmed from Merced to Fresno to Bakersfield. There’s also plenty of potential customers — and more than 6.5 million acres of cotton fields — in Texas, Funk noted.

Scott Hudson, San Joaquin County’s agricultural commissioner, said he wasn’t familiar with the thermal defoliator. But, he said, the machines might just take root.

“I think there’s probably a market for it,” he said. “It might serve to be a good alternative to foliating sprays.”

Contact reporter Chris Nichols at chrisn@lodinews.com.

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Use your real name. You must register with your full first and last name before you can comment. (And don't pretend you're someone else.)
  • 2 Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually oriented language.
  • 3 Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
  • 4 Be truthful. Don't lie about anyone or anything. Don't post unsubstantiated allegations, rumors or gossip that could harm the reputation of a person, company or organization.
  • 5 Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 6 Stay on topic. Make sure your comments are about the story. Don't insult each other.
  • 7 Tell us if the discussion is getting out of hand. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 8 Share what you know, and ask about what you don't.

Welcome to the discussion.

Video

Popular Stories

Poll

Should graduations return to the Grape Bowl?

Lodi Unified leaders are moving Lodi and Tokay high school graduations from the Grape Bowl to the Spanos Center at UOP in Stockton. They cite limited seating, costs and unpredictable weather at the Grape Bowl. But others say graduations at the Grape Bowl are an important Lodi tradition, and one reason many supported renovating the stadium. What do you think?

Total Votes: 26

Loading…

Mailing List

Subscribe to a mailing list to have daily news sent directly to your inbox.

  • Breaking News

    Would you like to receive breaking news alerts? Sign up now!

  • News Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily news headlines? Sign up now!

  • Sports Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily sports headlines? Sign up now!

Manage Your Lists