Harvesting Cotton: Square or Round Bales?

Across cotton fields, bales of freshly picked cotton are a common sight—it’s simply a natural step in the harvest. What might take some farmers by surprise, however, is seeing groupings of rounded cotton bales in place of the traditional square bales that have dominated the landscape for years and years.

Where are these round bails coming from and why are farmers straying from the traditional square bale staple? Moreover, is there any benefit to rounded bales versus their squared counterparts? To get to the bottom of things, we need to look past the bales themselves: to the cotton pickers creating them and the machinery that’s powering these pickers.

The Cotton Baling Process

Square versus rounded cotton bales comes down to a question of equipment. Consider this: to create traditional square bales, a picker needs to harvest the cotton and a hay baler needs to form the bales themselves. This is a two machine job, but is often not problematic, since farmers ideally have both machines on their property anyway.

Round bales are the product of a shift in farming towards more economical approaches to harvesting, wherein less is more. Case in point, less machinery is needed to make rounded bales: combination harvesters are now available that will do this inclusively, without the need for a hay baler! This allows farmers to not only cut down on the time and equipment needed to produce bales, it also expedites total harvest time!

The drawbacks

Now, while the benefits of rounded bales stem from the inclusive equipment that’s used to create them, this is also where the largest inherent drawback is. That drawback is the cost of investment. Farm equipment isn’t cheap and a combination picker and baler isn’t going to be cheap at all! And, while you might already have a baler on hand, making the investment might not always be a savvy decision.

For new farmers and those just starting out with cotton, however, a lasting investment can be made in combination equipment and thus, rounded bales become an appealing prospect. Remember, it’s all about return on investment, so expedited picking schedules and efficiency in baling are going to contribute more to a return on investment in the long run.


There are a few more trump cards that play to the strengths of both round and square bales, making them both viable options for harvesters. For example, spoilage tends to favor square bales—they’re easier to stack and store, meaning more of a chance to preserve the harvest. On the flip side, round bales have the time advantage going for them, which means quicker harvest-to-storage or shipment.

At the end of the day, the square versus round bale debate falls on the preference of the farmer. Farmers with the right equipment or the right processes on their farm may favor one versus the other, while some might simply choose the option that is easiest for them to comprehend. Either way, when it comes right down to it, baled cotton is baled cotton.

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