8 June 2001

Combines: A rival for store

cleaners

Sales of most types of farm

machinery have shrunk in

the past decade but demand

for farm scale grain cleaning

equipment has fallen faster

than most, Mike Williams

discovers

A KEY reason for the slump in cleaner sales is the improved cleaning performance of modern combines, says ADAS machinery specialist, John Bailey.

"These days it is unusual to include a grain cleaner in plans for a new grain store. They used to be essential for anyone serious about cereal production, but this has changed and more farmers are managing without them."

More effective herbicides producing cleaner crops as well as mobile cleaning services offering growers a reassuring back-up are partly to blame for the decline.

"But the biggest factor is the combine harvester. The cleaning performance has improved enormously, and set up properly the combine will produce a good sample. You have to accept a reduction in work rate, but I know some very capable farmers who grow for seed and do all their cleaning on the combine," says Mr Bailey.

Shrinking cleaner market

Grain cleaner manufacturers admit their market has changed. Turner Process Engineering has a long history of making cleaners and other grain equipment, but its cleaner business has shrunk, admits sales manager Simon Cauthery.

"We used to do a huge business in grain cleaners, but that was when every cereal grower needed one," he says. "Since then demand has fallen tremendously and they are now a relatively small part of our business. Most go to specialist growers, like those with seed contracts, who have more incentive to offer a clean sample."

Organic farms, where it can be a problem to obtain satisfactory samples from crops grown without herbicides is another potential market, says David Abbott of Alvan Blanch.

However, demand from that sector is unlikely to boost sales to early 1980 levels. Then it was assumed grain would be rejected if the "Material other than grain" (MOG) content was too high. Combine harvesters could not achieve the required standard, so farmers considered a cleaner essential, he explains.

"The market will never be like that again. Samples from modern combines can be as good as you get from a basic grain cleaner if you accept a slower work rate."

Now the Alvan Blanch range is restricted to a pre-cleaner for easing the load on driers.

Shrinking cleaner sales are confirmed by Scotlands leading manufacturer, Blair Engineering. But this is mainly because such machines do not wear out, explains managing director John McClement.

"Farmers still use grain cleaners. Combines can do a good cleaning job, but the priority is getting the crop harvested quickly not slowing down to get the cleanest sample. We sell fewer new cleaners these days, but orders for spares show existing machines are still used."

The trend to bigger farms is another factor affecting sales, says Stephen Foster of Law-Denis Engineering. Volumes have fallen drastically, but average capacity is increasing as growers take on extra acres or share equipment.

"The sales volume may be smaller these days, but grain cleaners are still important because they add value to the crop. Farmers who grow malting barley or seed avoid significant reductions by putting the crop through a cleaner." &#42

GRAIN CLEANER MARKET

&#8226 Sales slide > other equipment.

&#8226 Better combine cleaning.

&#8226 Organic opportunities.

&#8226 Fewer but bigger machines.

Cleaner costs

The 20 and 40t/hr reciprocating screen cleaners from Blair start at about £7000. Turner double-deck screen cleaners cost from about £6000 for the 10t/hr model, and a 40 t/hr Law-Denis rotary is listed at £13,957.