Now I'm not an expert on how these things work, but my general understanding is that the machine is driven up and down the rows and the fluffy cotton is sucked up through the hose that's visible in the above picture. The collected cotton is deposited in the large bin, being packed tightly as it is collected.
The next stop for the cotton is a gin, where the cotton is processed to remove seeds, boles and any debris. Again, the cotton is packed into tight bales and shipped to a cotton market where it is sold.
When I was a child all cotton, around here at least, was picked by hand. Each person was paid by the amount he or she picked that day. Pickers filled a sack each pulled behind him or her down long rows. When filled, the cotton was weighed on a pully-type scale, with the amount each picker picked duly recorded in a notebook. Sacks were emptied into a wagon or trailer, the empty sack returned to the picker and the process was repeated until almost nightfall. The next day you started all over again. (Kids prayed for rain every night because you couldn't pick cotton in a wet field.)
When the wagon was full, it was pulled by a tractor or truck to a local gin, just as it still is today.
The farmer, both then and now, are paid by the amount the bale weighs and whatever the going price is for cotton that year.
Like everything else, farming has changed. Cotton farming is done on a large scale these days with machinery that costs thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. For any of us who ever picked cotton by hand, this is a welcome change. Maybe we wanted or needed to earn enough money to spend at the county fair or buy our new fall school clothes, but it was tough work.
Cotton farming has changed, but other things have not. For instance, Nandina berries still turn from green to orange in autumn and their beauty makes your heart skip a beat:
The majestic Maple tree still tries to outdo all her neighbors:
The luscious hot-pink seed pod of the Southern Magnolia still beckons one to come closer for a better look:
And the sun setting in the western sky still tells us it's time to rest from our labors, whatever and however different they may be from times of yore.
I hope everyone reading this has had a great day.