4 September 1998

Answer to beet conundrum

By Ian Marshall

CONTRACTOR Robert Self was faced with a tough decision in 1997, the end of the sugar beet lifting campaign – continue with the service or pull out all together.

"Our six row Vervaet tanker harvester offers customers a number of advantages," he explains filling in the background.

"As it is a self-contained unit running on flotation tyres, it can continue harvesting under conditions which could stop a side delivery machine, without causing too much soil compaction. And, because the wheels are behind the lifters, the sample of beet going into the tank is cleaner."

Although those attributes were both recognised and appreciated by growers, Mr Self found the tanker had one major drawback – it cost twice as much as an equivalent side delivery machine, yet only lifts the same number of rows – a sticking point when it came to customers accepting a realistic charge for the operation.

As a result, to justify the investment in the machine, it was committed to lifting 1850 acres of beet.

"Men and machine were stretched to the limit," says Mr Self. "We were on the knife edge – even one relatively small delay meant we were behind in the programme."

It was a straightjacket that he would not accept. "We had to find a way of convincing customers of the need for a higher charge if we were to provide them with the level of service they expected, or pull out of the operation all together," he candidly admits.

Mr Self chose to convince his customers.

Calculations established that by reducing the harvesting area by 160 ha (400 acres) to 590 ha (1450 acres) and charging a commercial rate of £173/ha (£70/acre) he would be in a position to offer customers a specific lifting date.

Mr Self then approached growers with a proposal: If they accepted his charge, he would guarantee their beet was lifted before Christmas.

Client response was positive and the scheme was put into action for the 1997 lifting campaign, where it proved as effective in practice as it was in theory.

So successful in fact that a further 364ha (900 acres) have been booked for this seasons lifting campaign, which will be handled by a six row Riecam tanker harvester.

"The object of the exercise is to enable us to maintain the standard of service we offer customers," insists Mr Self. &#42

Robert Self: Reducing the area of sugar beet harvested enables me to provide customers with a lifting date – and charge a realistic commercial rate."