It’s the penultimate day of a longer-than-usual sugar beet campaign, one that started in mid-September and finally drew to a close in mid-March.
Juggling mobile phone and radio hand-piece, Europe’s biggest sugar beet haulier Roger Warnes responds to another of the regular and frequent calls he gets from a driver announcing his lorry’s discharged its load and is ready to collect another.
He responds after a brief, thoughtful pause: “Would you go to Manor Farm, Northwold, please,” he says. If it’s a new location for the driver, this quiet, polite but purposeful response will be followed by clear “turn left here, turn right there” directions.
There’s no map to refer to, other than the one Mr Warnes pictures in his head, complete with the whereabouts of his trucks and the precise location of the eight clamps they have been loading from that day.
“It’s fairly quiet today, being close to the end of the campaign,” he says. “Earlier on I’d also have 30 or 40 farmers calling me through the day asking how much beet they should lift and when.
With more than 40 bulk tippers on beet haulage on the busiest days of the week – Friday and Saturday – delivering to British Sugar’s Cantley, Bury St Edmunds and Wissington factories, his is a major logistics exercise by any standard.
Does he find it stressful? “You get used to it; and this is my 47th campaign,” Mr Warnes replies.
Does he get agitated if things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like? “Not really, there’s no point. But I do like my drivers to listen in and keep up with what’s going on; it’s a bit tiresome having to give the same directions to a farm 18 times in a row.”
The operation is often managed while Mr Warnes is at the wheel of one of the Hanomag wheeled loaders he bought in the 1980s. They gave him a significant shift in productivity from the Sanderson forklifts operated previously, and the grab and fore-end loaders that did the job before that.
|Roger Warnes manages a fleet of more than 40 bulk tippers on the busiest days of the sugar beet campaign.|
There are still half a dozen conventional cleaner-loaders in the operation but loading capacity shifted up to a higher gear five years ago with the purchase of Britain’s first self-propelled sugar beet cleaner-loader.
He now operates three of these £320,000-plus machines, one-third of the total UK population.
The euro-Maus M3 from German beet specialist ROPA replaces the familiar loading shovel and static cleaner-loader with an all-in-one machine that can pick up beet straight from the field headland.
Its hydrostatic transmission and numerous hydraulic drives are powered by tandem pumps mounted on the 299hp Mercedes-Benz diesel engine and there is an automatic pre-heating system that not only gets the oil warmed up ready for action on a cold morning but also warms and clears the cab glass of any condensation, frost or ice.
“There’s also a comprehensive diagnostics system to quickly pinpoint any problems,” points out Nigel Mountain of importer CTM Harpley Engineering. “It includes a facility for on-board weighing and recording, plus GPS location, that may well be used in future for traceability records.”
With a bulk tipper parked beneath its elevator, the euro-Maus creeps its way along the storage clamp, gathering roots on to an 8.7m wide set of 18 rollers that start the cleaning process while channelling the crop to an 80cm wide web conveyor that passes beneath the cab.
From there, the beet move on to a lengthways arrangement of eight spiral cleaning rollers, then a second web that forms part of the 13m reach conveyor assembly.
|One of three ROPA self-propelled beet cleaner-loaders operated by Roger Warnes Transport.|
The beet goes online
Beet hauliers have their own dedicated section on a new British Sugar website that combines the features of the British Sugar Online and BBRO sites.
It gives hauliers real-time access to their accounts, with details such as load allocations and the number pulled off, and is designed to complement the grower section, which is billed as a “one stop shop” for everything to do with the crop.
“There’s agronomy advice, including new pesticide product selection tools,” says Paul Bee, agriculture communications manager. “Sampling results from individual consignments are posted very quickly – sometimes on day the beet is delivered.”
Speaking during a visit to the Wissington factory by members of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists, Mr Bee revealed that about a quarter of British Sugar’s 4200 contracted growers are known to have internet connection, representing about 80% of the national tonnage.
“It’s going to be a very important information and communications resource that’s already being used by 750 growers a day on average,” he says.
With some 3m tonnes of beet sliced a year, the Wissington factory near King’s Lynn, Norfolk, is the world’s largest. It will take in 1100 truck loads of beet between 6am and 6pm when the campaign is in full swing.
“We’re weighing loaded lorries, tipping them on the water cascade beet intake ramps and weighing them empty again in around 12 minutes,” says Wissington agriculture manager Mark Culloden. “Every load is booked in to deliver during specific time zones to maintain flow ad efficiency.”
Nonetheless, improvements may be possible; growers, hauliers and British Sugar are currently digesting the results of an independent study into the industry’s transport efficiency.