Program helps analyze harvest costs

Figuring cotton harvest costs down to the proverbial gnat's hair just got easier with arrival of a Texas Tech University-developed computer program on the Internet that lets a producer determine his cotton harvesting costs and allows him to consider the costs of other harvest equipment scenarios as well.

The new calculator is available free to anyone on the World Wide Web at

From the Home Page of the university's Cotton Economics Research (CER) Institute, a user selects the “Resources” option with the click of the computer mouse. This will direct the user to the “Cotton Cost Calculator” option — one of three options on that page. By answering fewer than 18 questions on a fill-in-the-blank form appearing on the screen — questions relating to the grower's known costs related to his harvest operations — the program will flash the costs to a fraction of a penny per pound of lint harvested last year — or the cost expected this year.

“We drew up the calculator as a way to help growers find out their own exact harvest costs as part of a larger effort to help farmers plant, grow and harvest cotton by the least-cost but most-efficient method overall,” says Dr. Sukant Misra, associate director of the Cotton Economics Research Institute within the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, at the Lubbock university. “Putting the calculator on the Web, we decided, was the easiest way to make it available to producers anywhere, not only in Texas and Oklahoma.”

Misra and his associates, along with USDA Agricultural Research Service agricultural engineer Dr. Alan Brushears of Lubbock, had the calculator in the hands of a limited number of Texas Plains growers and cotton industry people as a test model during the 2000 growing season.

“We received a few comments from those folks, and we made the changes we felt would make the Web-based system even more useful,” he says.

The current-cost and alternative harvesting systems cost analyses address both stripper harvested cotton — strippers with and without onboard bur-extractors — and the mechanical picker system as well.

So what might be the most efficient cost of harvesting cotton in terms of cents per pound?

“…We made the changes we felt would make the Web-based system even more useful.”

As part of the program's development, Misra said his economics and engineering team found that, based on 1999 input costs, a Texas cotton producer with 582 acres and a 524 pound per acre yield using a four-row stripper without a bur extractor could minimize his average harvest cost at 6.71 cents a pound. A bur extractor on the harvester — same acreage and lint yield — would bump the cost up to 7.72 cents per pound. There might be, however, reduced costs in ginning the cotton.

On the picker side of cotton production equation, the cheapest harvesting expense, according to the calculator, comes where a grower puts a two row-picker in the field harvesting 582 acres, with the crop yielding 791 pounds to the acre. This most-efficient cost for picking is 6.93 cents per pound.

Again, Misra stresses, the cotton harvest calculator on the Web can be used in a two ways: to determine your current harvesting costs if you already own a picker or stripper, or, if you want to compare the costs of another harvesting equipment configuration for a known or projected operation.

“The calculator provides default values for all the questions, but you can change values as you wish and ask a lot of ‘what if’ questions and get the answer.”

Following selection of the “Resources” button on the CER Internet Home Page (page 2), the user selects one of four options dealing with current operations or proposed equipment, including whether picker or stripper equipment would be involved.

In the case of nailing down a grower's current harvest costs, the roughly 18 questions deal with daily fuel costs, labor, tractor hours, whether boll buggy and module builder are used, and their original costs. Where new equipment might be bought with a loan, the annual interest rate, expected lifetime of the equipment in years, and the salvage value as a percentage of the original purchase price would be put in the appropriate block on the screen.

The first questions ask if stripper with/without bur-extractor are the equipment of choice — and the purchase costs of each. Acreage to be harvested and the anticipated yield are other vital factors to be added. The user must know his costs of equipment and have that information in hand to successfully work the program.

“Designing such a cotton harvest cost calculator wasn't really all that hard to do, Misra says. “The hard part was making it available to cotton producers everywhere. We hit upon the idea of a simplified Web-based delivery, and here it is. It is a simple program to operate if you know much about computer operation at all.”

The system went on the Web as part of the CER Institute's Home Page just before the first of the year.

The harvesting cost calculator program was developed with funds received from Cotton Incorporated, the Texas State Support Committee. and from the Institute itself.

Additional information is available by calling Misra at 1-806-742-0277, ext. 246.

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