John Deere automates cotton picking, on display at CES2024

John Deere once again had another massive booth at CES 2024 in Las Vegas, this time with a focus on automated precision cotton planting, harvesting and bulk packaging to deliver the product to a cotton gin where it would then go to textile manufacturers to produce clothing and other products.  A separate portion of the exhibit showed Deere’s role in road construction work.

two men in front of cotton production work
Bill and Kyle Bridgeforth of Bridgeforth Farm,Tanner, Ala. (Matt Hamblen)

At the booth, farmer Bill Bridgeforth and his son Kyle Bridgeforth described working with Deere equipment on the 10,000-acre farm they own and operate in Tanner, Alabama. One-third of it is devoted to cotton and the remainder split between wheat, soybeans and corn.  

The father recalled for Fierce how he is old enough to recall picking cotton by hand on the land at age 7.    With the new Deere machines, production is far more efficient, Bill Bridgeforth said. “Expenses are down; production’s up,” he said.

 A large cotton-picking machine is driven down the field at 4 mph, stripping cotton from the stem and feeding it into rotating drums that operate at 5,000 rpm to produce large cylinders of cotton that can taken to market.

rear of picker with baler

The system picks out cotton seeds for cottonseed oil and livestock feed, while a single bale can be used for 16,000 socks and 4,800 shirts, among other clothing, according to Deere.

Deere even provides RFID tracking to describe where the cotton was harvested, down to a portion of an acre.

While Bill Bridgeforth welcomes the advent of newer technology from Deere, he and son Kyle said it is not always easy to incorporate the precise data Deere systems accumulate on the most productive portions of land. “It’s good technology, but it’s being able to incorporate it into our practices,” Bill Bridgeforth said. And with some of the top-of-the-line tractors selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, “it’s expensive, no doubt about it.”

Deere is working on ways to make new technology more affordable, including with a subscription model for machines. JP Morgan reported that Deere is offering a See & Spray software-as-a-service model that is currently available for $4 per acre in a test run with corn growers. The technology has been in development in recent years and was shown to reporters last year as it passed across fields with young plants, relying on cameras and precise spraying technology with Nvidia processors to help identify weeds.

RELATED: Deere’s balancing act: financial returns amid a broad range of tech R&D

Don and John Gallagher of Gallagher Asphalt at John Deere booth, CES 2024
Don and John Gallagher of Gallagher Asphalt, Thornton, Ill. (Matt Hamblen )

Deere also showed off a precision bulldozer and laser-guided milling machine, both for road construction work. The Dozer machine is used to precisely grade ground before paving by relying on sensors to align with survey data, sometimes

provided by drones.  The system helps operators improve accuracy and do it faster with half the driver inputs, according to customer Gallagher Asphalt Corp. of Thornton, Illinois.

“It’s less expensive to be on-grade and not sacrifice quality. Our productivity is up,” said John Gallagher, vice president of the operation who appeared at the booth with his cousin Don Gallagher, head of IT.