23 August 1996

Get set for six-row giants

THE latest generation of big-capacity tanker sugar beet harvesters, with lifting equipment slung ahead of the front wheels and holding tanks permitting bulk unloading, is bringing many advantages to UK beet fields.

Cleaner beet means less soil compaction; and bigger outputs come as standard.

But farmers hiring contractors operating these machines need to take account of their performance and prepare accordingly, says Trevor Lyle, a Lincolnshire contractor who operates two Riecam six-row lifters.

"Transport from field to storage area needs to be geared to cope with the higher outputs. The trailers need drivers who know what theyre about and most growers will need extra storage space."

From his base at Claxby near Market Rasen, Mr Lyle harvests over 1214ha (3000 acres) a season.

Key advantages relate to the layout of these giant harvesters. Firstly, because the lifting shares are mounted ahead of the front wheels, there is no soil disturbance around unlifted beet.

"A conventional harvester, whether trailed or self-propelled, tends to consolidate the soil around the beet and can cause a dirty sample," explains Mr Lyle.

Pushing the lifting equipment out front means the harvesters front wheels and tyres can be a lot bigger. That reduces soil compaction and allows the harvester to work in the wet.

Opening up headlands

The tanker element of the design, which on most machines will hold 12t to 14t of beet, allows more satisfactory opening up of headlands since trailers do not have to run alongside in unlifted crop. And, if ground conditions are unfavourable, trailers can be kept off the cropped area.

The cleaner lifting conditions and the fact that the driver has a better view of the process, promotes faster working speeds and bigger outputs.

"We could be lifting between 6ha and 8ha (15 and 20 acres) a day – thats 250t to 400t of beet at typical yields – which means there needs to be extra trailer capacity," notes Mr Lyle. When you have up to 10t of beet dropping into a trailer inside a minute, you have to know what youre doing – be in the right gear with plenty of revs in reserve," he adds.

"Otherwise," says Mr Lyle, "you come to a dead stop, and then youve got a couple of tonnes of beet on the tractor cab!"

Growers must also have sufficient storage area to cope with the increased daily lifting capacity, and have the permits to be able to move crop into the factory – which effectively means being part of a group.

"With close liaison between grower, haulier and contractor, the group permit system introduces sufficient flexibility that we can lift crops from heavy ground first to avoid bad weather and allow following crops to be drilled early, while leaving crops on light sandy soils until later to give them a chance to gain a little more yield."

A premium of £19-25/ha (£8-10/acre) is set for six-row machines due to reduced soil compaction, cleaner beet and fields cleared more quickly, says Mr Lyle. "Most farmers think it is worth it."

Growers hiring six-row harvesters must take account of their higher output, says Trevor Lyle (left).