Photo is courtesy of

Photo is courtesy of

College football season has started, the weather is milder, and pretty soon, we will all smell cotton defoliant when driving past cotton fields.  Throughout the Florida Panhandle, farmers are getting equipment ready for the harvest, and this is a good time to remind everyone of a few safety tips to prevent cotton picker fires.  I contacted Eddie Booker, Service Manager at Smith Tractor in Jay, and asked him what he thought about picker fires.  He said that an ounce of prevention is worth of a pound of cure, especially when it comes to highly specialized equipment like a cotton picker. Here are a few things he thought every cotton picker owner or operator should think about before he gets into the field.

Cotton Picker Maintenance to Reduce Fire Risk:

  • Review “In case of Fire” procedure for chassis compartment and accumulator fires.
  • Be familiar with the location and operation of fire extinguishers and auxiliary water systems.
  • Check your extinguishers to ensure that they are still charged and ready for use, and replace if they are not.
  • Adjust and maintain row units regularly.
  • Inspect all bearings daily for signs of overheating or excessive looseness and replace promptly.
  • Be alert for rocks, wood, or debris that can lodge in picking units and cause sparks.
  • Repair leaks and clean up ALL fuel and oils spills before cotton lint or trash can mix in.  Such mixtures become very combustible and are hard to control if ignited.
  • Do NOT unload near electrical lines.
  • Do NOT refuel with the engine running, while smoking, or around an open flame.
  • Do NOT use flammable petroleum wetting agents in the moistener system.
  • Avoid sparks when using a battery charger or booster battery.
  • Be familiar with the chassis fire extinguisher port location.
  • During harvest season, farmers often hire extra labor to assist.  Training the help about where fire extinguishers and auxiliary water systems are PRIOR to assigning them tasks is a good idea.

Eddie was quick to point out that performing all of this preventive maintenance does not insure protection from a fire, but it does greatly help to decrease the chances for fire.  He also provided information as to what a picker operator should do if a fire does arise.

What to do in case of fire:

  • Call 911 and alert your local fire department.
  • Do not panic.  Stop the machine immediately and disengage fans and row units.  Immediately point the machine into the wind and turn off the engine at the first sign of trouble.  Signs of trouble include a scorched smell, an unusual sound, or the sight of smoke or a flame.
  • Check the engine for hot spots, starting with the accumulator, picking units, then the engine and chassis.  After determining the location and which type of fire you have, extinguish the fire using the correct procedure and fire extinguishers.  Always spray extinguisher solution at the base of the fire.
  • Remember that panels may be hot when handled.  Use caution and wear gloves.
  • Make sure there is no smoldering cotton that could re-ignite.

Extension agents regularly preach pesticide safety, but equipment and fire safety are equally important.  If you have questions about how to handle fires on your picker, contact your tractor dealer. Fires belong in your backyard on a cool fall evening, not in your cotton picker.

For more information on this topic, Cotton Incorporated has a web page with training videos and procedures to prevent cotton picker fires:

Cotton Incorporated In-season Procedures for Spindle-Type Cotton Harvesters