13 October 2000

Annual lost beet bill £9m…

Reducing the proportion of crop lost to harvest losses is a

goal for sugar beet and potato growers alike. Edward Long

provides some topical tips for each crop

CURRENTLY 2.1t/ha of the national sugar beet crop is lost on or around the harvester, costing UK growers £9m, says British Sugar.

"It is still a big improvement over the 4.2t/ha lost in 1992," says BSs Stephen Brown. "The recent reduction is because growers are now more aware of the potential for leaving profits behind in the field. There is now more interest in setting up and operating harvesters properly instead of rushing to clear land as fast as possible."

Most losses are occurring at harvest, with the operator accounting for 75% of them. Mr Brown has 10 tips to help growers do the best possible job.

1 A successful harvesting operation starts with seedbed preparation. The land should be level and the crop free from gaps and weeds. Deep wheelings should be avoided as this can cause a six-row harvester to miss beet.

2 Effective pre-season maintenance is vital. This should include going through the machine from front to back to check the topping mechanism, ensuring springs are working, flails complete and replacing scalping knives. Then all linkages should be checked for bent or seized parts. Discs should be of sufficient diameter and belt drives tight. Turbine fingers should be present and correct with sufficient length to allow adjustments to be made.

3Immediately prior to harvest the machine should be set-up according to manufacturer guidelines to cope with prevailing conditions. If there is the option to change lifters a skid and disc type should be fitted where land is hard and dry. Vibrating shares are best in the wet.

4In hard dry conditions avoid driving too fast as roots can easily snap off and be left behind in the field.

5Avoid running off the row, a major cause of in-field losses.

6Under dry conditions plates should be put over turbine gates to reduce breakages and bruising.

7Once soil conditions improve a fast forward speed should be maintained to provide sufficient soil to "cushion" beet in the cleaning turbine. Avoid excessive cleaning as this increases the bruising risk.

8When opening up fields ensure the tractor and trailer wheels match and track in the rows, otherwise beet could be crushed or displaced making harvesting difficult or impossible.

9Minimise the drop height from the delivery elevator into the trailer. It is no use taking trouble to lift beet carefully if they are then dropped from a great height into a trailer bottom.

10Harvester drivers should regularly stop and get off to check behind the machine to see all is well. Then 100 roots on the trailer should be inspected. Ideally 85-90 should have root tip breakages no wider than a single finger, the rest a maximum of two fingers.

More forethought and attention during harvesting could save sugar beet and potato growers nearly £14m a year, say specialists.