How Is Cotton Picked?

cotton-picked Credit: Gloria Cabada-Leman/CC-BY-2.0

Large exporters of raw cotton, such as the United States, Australia and Europe, mechanically pick and harvest cotton through stripper and spindle pickers. A stripper picker removes the entire cotton boll off the plant along with other unopened bolls. The spindle cotton picker, on the other hand, removes the cotton from the boll and leaves the plant intact.

The stripper picker is primarily used in windy places, like in the high plains of Kansas, where harvesting is a race against the elements. Before harvesting cotton through stripper pickers, the cotton plants are treated with defoliants to increase picker efficiency. Spindle pickers use spindles that twist or pick the seed cotton from the boll. Because spindle pickers don't damage the other unopened bolls, harvesting can be repeated when the seed cotton matures.

In developing countries, however, cotton is picked manually or through hand harvesting. The workers pick the lint from the boll, which preserves the cotton fiber better and leave the plant undamaged. Special varieties of cotton are harvested through snapping, or removing the entire boll off the plant. It is a faster method of harvesting, but a special gin is required to process the cotton.

Picking cotton through spindle pickers is the best way to harvest cotton. They are faster and protect the cotton plant for the next harvest. A spindle picker can also perform the work of about 40 hand pickers, while stripper pickers can only do the work 20 laborers can by snapping.