14 May 1999

Farm invention finds way onto production line

Contrary to popular opinion, there are some farmer

inventions which actually make it through to commercial

production, as Andy Collings discovered when he visited

Standen Engineering in Ely, Cambs

WHEN Yorks farmer John Gossop came to the conclusion that power harrows used too much horsepower, used too much fuel and were too slow, he began thinking of an alternative system.

What was needed, he decided, was a machine which could cultivate soil to a good working depth, crumble clods, bury stones and then drill seed – all this in just one pass. And if that wasnt enough, work rate had to be in the 2ha/hr (5 acre) zone.

A tall order but one which Mr Gossop appears to have achieved.

Rather than set about using large amounts of power to thrash soil into submission, the Gossop design uses the principle that soils already have a certain percentage of fine "seed-bed" sized particles mixed up with larger lumps, stones and rubbish. The secret is to separate out large from small in such a way that fine soil is left on the surface and the rest buried. Simple…

The result was the Wonpas which first made its prototype appearance in the spring of 1997 (see FW 4 April 97). The 2m machine uses shares to lift soil onto an angled conveyor belt which takes it to rotating vertical web. The bubbling action of this web allows finer soil to pass through it and fall back onto the ground.

Meanwhile, the larger clods and stones which do not make it through the web drop onto a horizontal web which, while still allowing finer soil to pass through, takes the problem pieces to the front of the machine and deposits them on the ground. It doesnt take a mastermind to realise that, in operation, the net result is that clods, stones and trash end up under the finer tilth.

Quite convinced his machine warranted serious commercial exploitation, Mr Gossop approached a number of companies – most of which decided that such a machine was not for them.

Salvation came in the form of Standen Engineerings joint managing director, Andy Bone, whose initial interest in the machine was later turned to a distinct enthusiasm when he realised its stone burying potential.

"Johns original intention was to use the machine for cereal work," he says. "But I realised that it had a greater and possibly more important role to play in root crop production.

"Crops like onions, sugar beet, swedes or carrots all benefit from not having stones in their growing zones – particularly when it comes to harvest. Conventional de-stoning kit, as used for potatoes, is too slow and hardly cost-effective for these crops. Even if it was, leaving a row of stones in the field is hardly useful."

Standen Engineering became joint patent owners and entered into a financial agreement with Mr Gossop. In the workshop, the company set about making the alterations deemed necessary to make it commercially viable.

"We decided to go for a 3m version which, apart from the extra width, was virtually identical in every way to Johns design. There was very little we needed to do. We tried making a few changes but, at the end of the day, we had to revert to Johns original design because he had clearly got it right from the start.

"The only change we have made is at the back end where the eight packer tyres are to be replaced with six wider tyres and the metal work altered to accommodate a 3m Juko drill unit and a variety of tines or packer rollers."

With a new name – Eureka – the first machine had one of its first outings on a farm specialising in turf production – a situation where surface stones can be really bad news for the cutting equipment and the turfs subsequent user.

Turf production

British Farm Products farms 1800ha (4500 acres) just outside Ely, Cambs of which nearly one-fifth is down to turf production. A key member of the team is Gerald Moulding who describes himself as machinery manager although his responsibilities clearly extend beyond this titled mandate.

"There are areas of this farm where the amount of stones prevent us from planting turf grass," he explains. "If, as the Eurekas demonstration would appear to achieve, we can remove stones from the top few inches of the soil – quickly – it would enable more land to be brought into turf production."

An intense study of the area where the machine had been working was to find very few stones near the surface, contrasting starkly with the neighbouring field where stones lay everywhere.

"I really feel that we could be onto a winner with the Eureka," says Mr Bone. "There are so many crops which could profit from its ability to place stones, clods and surface trash several inches down out of harms way – and create a seed-bed."

First public airing for the machine is due to be at the Cereals Event. Expected price tag is £27,000. &#42