23 August 2002

Nine-row giants all set to replace six-rowers

Four nine-row harvesters

lifting sugar beet on

UK farms this autumn

could pose the first real

threat to the dominance

of six-row machines.

Mike Williams reports

EVEN the UK importers are surprised by the initial sales success of the new nine-row harvesters. First-year production of the Vervaet Beet Eater and the WKM Hexa is expected to total about five machines each, which means UK contractors have booked 40% of all the nine-row harvesters, more than any other country.

Jeremy Riley of the Vervaet distributor, J Riley Beet Harvesters, and Ernie Wool of the WKM Hexa importer, Agrihold Farm Machinery, was each hoping to sell one of the harvesters this year, and as Mr Wool says, selling the second machine was a bonus.

The first seasons sales success has been achieved despite some doubts expressed last year after nine-row harvesters were demonstrated for the first time in the UK.

There were concerns about how a nine-row harvester would match up to the 6 or 12-row drills used for most of the UK beet crop, and the potential 50% rise in output when switching from six rows to nine will demand a rethink on trailer capacity for transporting the beet from the field. Cost could also be a barrier, it was said, with nine-row machines priced at about £300,000 compared with £240,000 for a new six-row.

At this stage the suggestion that contractors might be unwilling to make the big financial and operational jump from their six-row models appears incorrect, and the importers for both nine-row machines say they are surprised by the level of interest they have attracted. Further orders are expected if the giant harvesters make a smooth start this autumn. The big question now is how quickly will the nine-row machines replace their smaller rivals.

"It is very difficult to forecast, and I really do not know the answer," says Mr Wool. "Changing from six rows to nine is a big step. I thought the new nine-row harvesters would take off on the Continent first. I was certainly not expecting to sell two of the new machines in the first season, and I did not realise how much interest they would attract.

"You should get a 50% increase in output by changing to nine rows, and that can be very attractive," he says. "Harvesting nine rows in a crop drilled in 6 or 12 rows is not a problem because the lifting mechanism on our machine is split into three-row sections. Each section has an automatic row seeking action to compensate for drilling inaccuracies.

"My guess is that we will see a steady increase in sales of nine-row harvesters in this country because everyone is looking for more output, but I also think six-row machines will continue to be important and they will never be completely replaced by nine-row harvesters."

Much interest

Jeremy Riley agrees, although he was also surprised by the level of interest in the new harvesters. He believes the performance of the new machines will be impressive, particularly the work rate. The tanker type Beet Eater is certainly capable of increasing output significantly compared with a six-row harvester and that will interest a lot of contractors.

"The way the weight is spread over six wheels to reduce soil compaction is also impressive. The Beet Eater is a heavy machine, but the track setting adjusts on all three axles so that each wheel follows a different track, and the flotation is very good for such a big machine. One of the factors we do not know at this stage is the resale value, and that will affect the demand for new machines, just as it does for six-row models.

"When the first six-row harvesters arrived there were some people who thought they were too big and expensive, but we take them for granted now. I am sure demand for the nine-row machines will grow, but I think it will be a steady expansion and there will still be a market for the six-row models."

One of the first UK customers for a nine-row harvester is Philip Plowright, who runs the J P Plowright and Sons contracting business at Barnstone, Bingham, Notts. Sugar beet work is a big part of his business, and Mr Plowright has ordered a Vervaet Beet Eater to replace his previous six-row harvester.

"The trend in farming and contracting is to use bigger machines with more output, and you cant ignore it," he says. "I think this sort of development is inevitable in sugar beet harvesting, and it offers real benefits for the grower."

The benefits for growers include faster harvesting to make better use of good conditions and to clear their land faster. Another, he says, is the way the machine is designed to cut soil damage, and he expects the new harvester will cause less compaction than his previous six-row model.

"We will have to make sure the transport from the field can keep pace with the extra output, but it is a problem we can handle," he says. "We will also be looking out for additional acreage to lift, because the new machine should harvest a lot more beet than the six-row machine we used previously."

Graham Hancy chose a WKM Hexa harvester, which will replace two six-row machines used previously in his R Hancy and Sons farming and contracting business at Banham on the Norfolk-Suffolk borders.

"I have done the sums and this seems to be the right way forward," he says. "Instead of two harvesters plus a tractor and 18t trailer for each machine, we will use both trailers with the nine-row harvester. We save one driver, and we also need only one back-up van instead of two."

Mr Clancy has contracts for 1100ha (2750 acres) of beet this autumn plus a further 120ha (300 acres) on his own farm. &#42

Six wheels on the Vervaets Beat-Eater nine-row harvester spread the weight to the point that less soil compaction is caused than with a six-row machine.

Nine rows in a single pass. Individual guidance systems compensate for any drilling irregularities.


Vervaet Beet Eater WKM Hexa

Engine make Deutz Deutz

Engine type 15-litre V-8 15-litre V-8

Engine hp 550 550

Transmission Dual range Dual range

hydrostatic hydrostatic

Cleaning system Eight turbines Six turbines

Tank capacity (t) 25 25

Claimed capacity (ha/hour) 2 2

Tyre sizes

Front and middle 800×38 900×32

Rear 800×32 1050×32

Steering All-wheel and crab All-wheel and crab

Weight (t) with empty tank 31 31