How is cotton harvested?

Cotton, which comes from flowering Gossypium plants, is a key vegetable fiber used for making clothes, and oil from its seeds can be used in cooking or for making soap. The cotton plant grows in 17 states that make up the U.S. “Cotton Belt”: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Kansas. In the United States, where cotton is no longer picked by hand, machines called pickers or strippers harvest the crops.

Cotton-picking machines have spindles that pick (twist) the seed cotton from the burrs that are attached to plants’ stems. Doffers— a series of circular rubber pads—then remove the seed cotton from the spindles and knock the seed cotton into a conveying system. Conventional cotton stripping machines use rollers equipped with alternating bats and brushes to knock the fluffy white bolls, which contain seeds and hairs, from the plants into a conveyor. After harvest, most of the cotton is pressed into large blocks for storage. These cotton bundles are then transported to the cotton gin, a machine that pulls out the seeds from the cotton bolls.