7 June 2002

MILLS KEY TO WHOLE-CROP

While most would reason that the switch from harvesting

grass to whole-crop requires only a change in header

it is not the case for Dorset contractor Mike Simpson.

He has opted to add specialist milling equipment to his

forager this season. Geoff Ashcroft reports

WITH a whole-crop workload expected to be at least twice that of last seasons 182ha (450 acres), Dorset contractor Mike Simpson is taking a different approach to mechanisation.

This season sees the foragers Kemper Champion header substituted for a second-hand combine header, while the use of a maize corn cracker will be swapped for a dedicated whole crop mill.

"An increasing number of our mixed farming customers recognise the potential of home-grown feed stuffs and see whole-crop silage as an important ingredient in rations, rather than a last minute clamp filler," says Mr Simpson of West Down Barn, Winterborne Kingston, Dorset.

Two-thirds of his 2002 whole-crop acreage is expected to be of the fermented type, cut with a dry matter content of between 30-55% and treated with a conventional additive applied by the forager.

"The softer grains of fermented whole crop breakdown easily in the clamp with an additive," he says.

The remaining third of his whole-crop silage will be of the alkalage variety, which is harvested much later in the season where dry matter values can be from 55-80%. And this is where the whole-crop mill is required, says Mr Simpson, so the drier, harder grains can be broken to maximise the energy from the starch within the grain.

"If it wasnt for alkalage, I would be able to cut whole-crop with perhaps only a few changes to the forager," he says.

But there is a sense of professional pride at stake, and Mr Simpson aims to develop his whole-crop service into a profitable niche providing high quality forage – and you cant do it properly, he reckons, without the right equipment for the job. It also means average foraging rates for whole crop can be charged out at about £62/ha (£25/acre).

Kemper header

Last season saw Mr Simpson invest in a 6m Kemper header when trading up from a Claas Jaguar 820 forager to a more powerful 870 model, with added justification coming from 809ha (2000 acres) of maize harvesting.

"The Kemper is unbeatable in maize, and most of the time works fine in standing wheat, but it is a compromise when you think of what adjustments a combine header can offer," he explains. "And a few tough moments last year with whole crops containing pea, bean and barley mixes forced a rethink."

But the cost of conversion is not cheap. After spending several thousand on a second-hand 6m wide Lexion combine header, an adapter plate to reduce the combine headers throat width to match that of the forager took the cost of conversion close to £10,000. Then there is the cost of the whole-crop mill, which weighs in at a further £2475.

"We used our maize processor last year because Claas couldnt supply a whole-crop mill in time, but we are hoping to provide customers with an even better forage this year," he says.

The whole-crop mill works on the same principle as Claas maize corn cracker, but each roller carries 125 teeth compared with the maize processors 100 teeth/roller. The teeth are also saw-tooth profiled with a flat leading edge.

These saw-toothed rollers run at a much greater speed differential than their maize corn cracking counterparts – 60% (5000-3100rpm) instead of a 21% speed difference on maize – so that effective grain breakage occurs.

And Mr Simpson is keen to try the system with customers to see how the silage quality of milled whole-crop forage compares with non-milled forage.

Kind on blades

"We dont swap our grass blades because third cut grass silage will be foraged between fields of whole crop," he says. "whole-crop is relatively kind on blades because we are direct cutting and not raking up any foreign objects that can be found in rows of grass. Though we do adjust chop lengths to suit a customers requirements."

Output of the Simpson whole-crop operation was on a par with maize last season at about 40ha a day (100 acres a day) and despite the investment in specialist equipment, there are no gains expected this year.

"The job should run much smoother," he adds. "The only other change we have made for this year can be found at the clamp. Our 150hp JCB 414S now has a specially made push-off bucket for whole crop and grass."

Built by a local engineering firm, the 2.5cu m capacity bucket can scoop up the contents of a 14t trailer in three passes.

"Whole-crop needs to be put into a clamp in long, fine layers while being well-compacted," he says. "Our push-off bucket now allows the driver to finely spread material as he climbs the clamp." &#42

Above: For 2002, Dorset contractor Mike Simpson has equipped his forager with a whole-crop primary processing mill and 6m wide combine header to give his customers better results with whole-crop silage.

Left: High capacity,

push-off bucket was built to allow more accurate layering of clamps.

Main Pic: "While the Kemper header is excellent on maize, it is a compromise in whole-crop,"

says Mike Simpson,

who is switching to

a combine header

for this season.