Sugar beet growing and harvesting is an increasingly specialised business. There are now just 4,000 growers in the UK and much of the harvesting is done by contractors.
The machinery has been getting steadily bigger and more powerful, too.
The latest versions of Grimme’s Rexor 620, for example, are powered by a 490hp Mercedes engine driving through a hydrostatic transmission that allows a 40kph speed on the road.
Topper options include the new twin-flail FM300 defoliator (which Grimme UK says reduces beet scalping) or the inline FT300.
The latter places the beet tops between the rows, where they are pushed down by heavy press wheels, giving easier follow-on cultivations.
Beet lifting is done by hydraulically-driven oppel wheels, with the speed of the wheels and their width setting changeable from the cab.
The hydrostatically driven wheels give space for harvested beet to pass between the front two wheels – a traditional bottleneck for harvesters.
Three adjustable-speed turbine cleaners are fitted as standard, although a roller cleaner unit can be specified if the machine is working in lighter soil.
The bunker holds a massive 22t, which Grimme says can be emptied in less than a minute, and the unloading height can be pre-set to give the right shape of clamp.
Having two steerable axles as well as articulation in the main frame means the machine can perform surprisingly tight turns – its inner turning radius is 7.5m.
Alan and Stephen Witham, of SW Witham & Sons run a contracting business outside Aylsham, Norfolk, offering beet harvesting, muck spreading, baling and other agricultural work.
The brothers had used another brand of harvester for more than 17 years, which they admit was a good machine with good backup. So what made them change?
“We work hard for every penny and it was a big decision to switch to this machine,” says Steve.
The main reason was British Sugar’s demand for less damage yet cleaner beet. The Rexor’s oppel wheel system, larger intake auger and roller/turbine configuration helped meet those demands. “The machine is much gentler on the beet,” says Alan, who drives the machine.
Second was the control system, though Alan admits to finding it a bit daunting at first. “I was concerned about how complicated it seemed, but it is possible to set up the whole machine from the two consoles. It’s a comfortable and easy-to-control machine.”
The machine can be set up for easy working in various ways, such as setting the amount of beet going into the bunker before being advised to unload – useful when working in hilly areas.
Output is the same as other six-row machines but fuel consumption is almost half what it was on their previous machine.
The MB engine will tick over at 1,200rpm but goes up to 1,600rpm under load. Revs also automatically increase when the unloading elevator starts and all the hydraulics are load sensing.
The Rexor has managed to keep moving in wet conditions, even when the tractor and trailers are getting stuck. On the day of Farmers Weekly’s visit it was unloading at the headland thanks to very muddy conditions.
The Withams will have harvested 1,000ha (2,500 acres) by the end of the season and so far their impressions of the machine are positive. Although there is nothing revolutionary on the Rexor, they point out, the total package – and in particular the control system – adds up to what one of the most sophisticated harvesters on the market.
Specification: Rexor 620 Machine
Empty weight 25.9kg
Bunker vol and weight 22t
Tyres (front/rear) 800/75 R 32/1050/50 R 32
Fuel tank 1,100 litres
Engine 490 hp Mercedes Benz