11 January 2002

From six-row to nine-row with Vervaets beet eater harvester

Sugar beet contractors and

growers who saw the new

Vervaet nine-row harvester

in action at recent UK

demonstrations are

weighing up the changes

needed to make the switch

from six-row harvesting.

Mike Williams reports

ITS a giant. With a 500hp Deutz power plant, hydrostatic drive to six wheels on three axles and a gross weight of 54t, the Vervaet Beet Eater must count as the daddy of all sugar beet harvesters.

The machine, which made its first UK appearance at last years Beet UK event in October, has an overall width of just over 5m with a spreader fitted, has a 25t-hopper capacity and a price tag in the region of £300,000.

One of the first to appreciate the Beet Eater phenomena was Ken Rush, who runs the K&R Rush contracting business at Shimpling, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. He operates two six-row harvesters, but says forward speed of the nine-row Beet Eater is at least as fast as a good six-row machine and reckons he could achieve a genuine 50% increase in the work rate.

"The output is truly impressive. But changing over from a six-row system to a nine-row would be complicated."

Mr Rush points out that, for starters, a nine or an 18-row drill for a nine-row harvester is required. Drilling crops with a six or 12-row machine could cause harvesting problems unless you have a very good tractor driver.

"We drill a lot of the beet we harvest and we could change over to a suitable width, but we dont want to lose those customers who prefer to drill their own sugar beet and would probably not want to buy a new drill."

Mr Rush believes problems of matching drilling and harvesting widths may mean the first UK customers for nine-row harvesters are farming groups who share beet machinery and would be prepared to agree to standardise on a suitable drilling width.

Drilling aside, the output potential of the Beet Eater could mean that extra tractors, trailers and drivers would need to be employed to cope with the extra output. Mr Rush estimates he would have to provide a three-man back-up team for many of the harvesting contracts that currently need two drivers, tractors and trailers to take the beet to the clamp. This would mean additional costs.

"The Beet Eater is very impressive and I am sure there will be a demand for it, but it is also an enormous investment. I think depreciation could be a serious problem because there is not going to be a big demand for a second-hand nine-row harvester, and a very low resale value may have to be accepted."

Jeremy Riley, of Norfolk-based Vervaet importer J Riley Beet Harvesters says the production target for the Beet Eater is five machines for the 2002 season and he hopes to find a home for one of them in the UK.

"There are some customers who will be able to make good use of the extra output and will want to move up to nine-row harvesting" he says. "But I think the demand will be quite small initially, and six-row machines will be popular for a long time." &#42

Contractor Ken Rush: "Output is impressive but with a price tag of about £300,000 depreciation could be a serious problem."

Nine-rows, six wheels, three axles… The Vervaet Beet Eater has a gross weight of 54t when its 25t capacity hopper is full.