4 September 1998

Big investment set to pay come beet harvest

More efficient harvesting is the goal for all beet growers.

But is a £0.25m spend on new equipment really the

right answer? Charles Abel reports from Lincs

A MAJOR rethink of harvesting strategy for the farm hosting this autumns Beet UK demonstration will cut lifting costs by 10%, provide cleaner, less damaged beet and significantly reduce soil compaction.

Beet occupies 138ha (340 acres) of &#42 and J Nevile and Sons 1380ha (3410 acres) at Aubourn near Lincoln. For the past 21 years harvesting has been in partnership with Patrick Dean Ltd, lifting a total of 324ha (800 acres) primarily using six-row Morreau harvesters.

This autumn the arrival of a new German-built 6-row Holmer 18t tanker harvester will see twice that area lifted.

"We wanted more efficient harvesting, less damage and a better fit for the beet in the overall rotation," explains Philip Wynn, man- aging director of Aubourn Farming which manages the farm. The company provides farming, agronomy and comprehensive business support to farmers in the Midlands and Yorks.

Holmers Terra-Dos seemed to fit the bill. Walking shares and a spiral roller bed before the turbines reduces beet damage and cuts tare, says farm manager Philip Ashton. "A lot of the beet we harvest is on Lincoln Heath, where flat limestone can get scooped into the harvester by conventional turbines, leading to big tare problems. Some farms on the heath run picking-off tables and remove huge heaps of stone before delivering to the factory, greatly adding to loading costs."

Stone-free beet cleaning on the Holmer should reduce damage. "Some of our beet can be clamped for more than two months so it is vital we minimise damage to reduce sugar losses," says Mr Wynn. The company has already transformed clamp management with careful use of covers, under-clamp ventilation and temperature probes to cut respiration.

A new 16t high-sided trailer made by A S Trailers will also help. "It tips to 60 degrees to give a level-topped 4m (13ft) heap eliminating the need for a loader to push beet up," says Mr Ashton.

"That will significantly reduce clamping damage which we know has cost us significantly in terms of sugar loss," notes Mr Wynn.

Using a high capacity trailer with a tanker harvester also makes carting a one-man, not two-man, job.

But can almost a £250,000 worth of investment be justified? "A replacement Morreau would have cost us about £140,000, so we clearly needed to harvest more beet to move to the Holmer," says Mr Wynn. "We had a lot of interest from local growers and eight have moved from their own machines or contractors to join us, giving us 1500 acres to go at this autumn.

"The increased area, reduced labour and improved quality should give us a 10% improvement in our returns this autumn."

Clearing so much beet between a Sept 20 start on heavy land and Christmas should be no problem, says Mr Ashton. "Last year I saw a similar machine in Cambs which lifted 1600 acres by mid-December."

Using a tanker machine on Terra-tyres will cut compaction, with the 16t trailer keeping to headlands where its twin axles with over-sized tyres do minimal damage.

Whats more, the articulated Holmer harvester lifts in a crabbed steering configuration so the rear wheels run between the front wheelings.

"The result is a field which doesnt need levelling before cultivating for the following cereal crop," says Mr Ashton.

Holmers professionalism and focus on practical issues has impressed. "A number of their factory engineers farm part-time or contract harvest in the autumn, which means they really know what needs doing to make the job easier and improve the Holmer harvester," says Mr Ashton.

Both men working with the machine spent three days training in Germany. "You only get one day in the UK for a new high-capacity combine," says Mr Wynn.

The group approach to more effective beet lifting is something more growers need to consider to protect crop margins, Mr Wynn believes. "The beet team is now self-reliant, making its own decisions to get the job done. Its a far more efficient operation." &#42

AUBOURNBEET

&#8226 138ha (340 acres) on heavy to brash land.

&#8226 Madison, Jackpot and Oberon on 53ha (130 acre) demo site on same brash soil as Cereals 96 event.

&#8226 Ploughed pre-Christmas after spring barley, Dutch harrowed twice with 15-year-old Simba Ultimate pre-drilling.

&#8226 Drilled Mar 23-24, established well, FAR weed control effective, wiped twice to remove weed beet.

&#8226 1997 crop: 60 t/ha 18% sugar. Av 52t/ha 16.5-17% sugar.

&#8226 1998 crop set to match last years.

Rhizomania

Intense anti-rhizo precautions will be implemented at Beet UK. "The disease is in Notts now, so it is clearly on the move, and Im adamant were not going to have it here," says Mr Wynn. "We will only accept brand new harvesters, or thoroughly cleaned and disinfected machines, and all visitors will be expected to clean their vehicles before coming. The onus really is on the industry. This is the first harvesting event for 10 years and if the industry wants another it must act responsibly. I will be checking vehicles personally and anything dirty will not come on the site." All equipment operated by the Aubourn/Dean harvesting team is thoroughly cleaned between sites and beet is only ever clamped on the farm where it is harvested, Mr Wynn adds.