The rolling Worcestershire countryside is not the most obvious habitat for a grain chaser – they are more often found in the open expanses of the eastern counties.
But grower Ed Beckett reckons the chaser he used for the first time last year is bringing benefits in harvest logistics and soil damage limitation.
“You do have to pick and choose a bit where to turn in some fields when it’s full,” he notes. “But the grain chaser has added a new dimension to the flexibility that’s important in our harvest operation.”
The chaser in question is a 25cu m Perard Interbenne with another 2cu m capacity provided by a set of “greedy boards” around the top of the hopper. It runs on leaf-sprung rocking beam tandem axles, has hydraulic drawbar height adjustment and suspension, and is fitted with the tallest tyres on the options list.
“I must admit I wondered what on earth I’d done when the chaser was delivered because it’s enormous,” Mr Beckett recalls. “It was meant to fit on our weighbridge but doesn’t because the tyres are just a little bit too wide, but now we’ve used it properly I’m comfortable with the choice.”
The dire 2012 harvest weather was the catalyst for ordering a chaser, having pondered the possibility for a year or two. The higgledy-piggledy cropping that resulted from the difficult autumn conditions was not ideal for the chaser to show its true colours in the 2013 harvest.
Things have been more typical this year, with logical crop distribution across the 1,000ha Mr Beckett farms at Upper Bardley near Kiddermister and on other units under contract farming or stubble-to-stubble contracts.
Half that acreage is down to winter wheat, the rest to oilseed rape, winter barley, beans and peas, and also linseed when it suits.
The business – A Beckett & Son – runs two combines, with about 80% of the workload handled by a 35ft Claas Lexion 580+ TerraTrac, supported by a 30ft New Holland CR980.
“We rarely run the two together and I’ve thought of moving to just the one combine,” says Ed Beckett. “But with land spread out in blocks up to eight miles away, there’d be a lot of “to and fro”, which we avoid by having the second combine.”
The long road hauls from these distant fields is also one reason for operating a grain chaser; being permanently stationed in the field means there is always somewhere to off-load the combine tank and keep it working.
Reducing soil compaction, which is already given a high priority judging by the generous tyres fitted to tractors, trailers and other equipment, was the other goal.
The Perard Interbenne supplied by Quivogne UK keeps trailers out of the field and helps the logistical challenge of harvesting fields distant from the drying and main storage facility.
“I also wanted as much flexibility as possible,” Mr Beckett adds. “With most chasers you’re pretty much confined to operating them in a particular way but the Interbenne is different.”
The key feature of this grain carrier is a discharge auger that swings out like a combine’s and can be engaged at any point from its transport position tucked away down the side of the body to a fully extended high-discharge position at a 90deg angle.
Being able to discharge the contents with the auger parked means it can empty directly into store – and without need of a high roof or doorway, which is handy when supporting the combine in fields adjacent to storage.
It also suits Mr Beckett’s bin intake for the drier because wet grain brought in from nearby fields or from a store a couple of miles away can be augered straight into the bin. When conventional trailers are used, it must be tipped and then loaded by telehandler.
“We could also use the chaser for filling a fertiliser spreader or seed drill because the auger swings down initially from its parked position,” he points out. “It’s not something we’ve done yet but the capability is there.”
An internal screw draws grain to the discharge auger when emptying; they use the same driveline but with a clutch enabling them to operate individually that is connected to a hydraulically operated feed hatch.
On starting the pto drive, the discharge auger gets up to speed first; the feed auger is then activated by opening the hatch. When unloading has finished, the feed auger disengages as soon as the hatch starts to close, but the discharge auger continues to run to empty the tube of remaining grain.
Three windows in the front panel enable the operator to see inside when taking a load off the combine but it would make life easier if they were bigger. Nonetheless, an experienced operator with a bit of nous can make full use of the chaser’s load potential.
“It’s essential to have a good operator on the chaser because his job is to keep the combine moving and ensure the trailers carry grain to store as efficiently as possible, which is especially important when we have blocks of land all over the place,” says Ed Beckett.
“A trailer driver inexperienced at side loading will tend to come home under-filled, especially at the back of the trailer,” he explains. “Losing 10-15% capacity on a 10 mile haul is very inefficient, so transferring from the chaser ensures every trailer runs to capacity.”
Despite being fitted with premium radial tyres of a decent size, trailers are mostly confined to yards, tracks and other hard-standing areas.
“Tyre pressures are compromised by the long road hauls involved, so instead of having trailers running about the fields with tyres at 45-50psi, we have one chaser with pressures down to 18psi,” notes Ed Beckett. “That’s got to be a good thing for compaction and cutting down the amount and depth of cultivation we need.”
The chaser, meanwhile, keeps to tramlines or the combine’s tracks as far as possible. A controlled traffic system has been considered, of course, to keep the impact of grain haulage to its ultimate low level but is impractical, reckons Mr Beckett, given so many variables across the contract farmed land.
Having seen the chaser operating in a more typical situation this year, he is now comfortable with having bought a chaser that costs more than most alternatives but has the versatility to suit different roles in his farming operation.
“The biggest surprise is that it’s just as beneficial in smaller fields when the combine is frequently moving from one to another,” Mr Beckett notes. “The combine never has to wait to empty before moving because the chaser’s always available to take off the grain.”
The primary role of the grain chaser is to keep the combine rolling while trailers keep to the road, ferrying grain from field to storage.
Ed Beckett: ‘I must admit I wondered what on earth I’d done when the chaser was delivered because it’s enormous.’
Grain chasers – what’s out there
Check out what’s available among grain chasers for improving harvest logistics and managing soil compaction by imposing greater control overfield trafficking.
HTS Re-Loading Trailer in two tandem axle sizes 25-28cu m and three triple-axle sizes 33-36cu m. Screw feed to front-mounted auger discharging 15cu m/min at 4m. £42,000-78,000. Also available to same specification as interchangeable body for HTS MultiLand system. £46,000-84,000 including chassis.
Grain Transfer Wagon – 21cu m single- or tandem-axle, 38/43cu m triple axle, with screw-fed front-mounted 6.6t/hr auger discharging at 4.8m (single axle) and 4.92m (tandem axle).
24cu m hopper-bottom Chaser Bin on single axle with telescopic adjustment to 3.9m track width and 6t/min auger discharging at 4m. £45,900.
GTU series Chaser Bin, eight sizes 21cu m single-axle, 25-28cu m tandem-axle, 32-43cu m triple-axle, with front-mounted auger discharging at 4.5m to 4.7m (depending on model) and 10cu m/min for most models, 15cu m/min for the top three. £42,246-£98,470.
Seven model Field Transfer Trailer range from 19cu m single-axle, 23-28cu m tandem-axle, 32-38cu m triple-axle. 9t/min discharge rate (6.8t/min on 19cu m model) at 4.7m from front-mounted, screw-fed auger. £30,500-£53,500 (36cu m). Also available in four 23-36cu m sizes for Body Swap System to same specification; £43,500-£59,500.
Titan single telescopic axle with track adjustment from 2.95m to 3.45m beneath 34cu m hopper with pto-driven auger discharging at 3.89m, 18t/hr. £56,030.
X-Flow hopper grain chaser – single-axle 18.2cu m (£37,000) and tandem axle 28cu m (£47,000) models with 4.8m discharge height from 21cu m/min auger. Interbenne grain chaser in three sizes – 19cu m single-axle (£43,000), 27cu m tandem- (£58,000) or triple-axle and 38cu m (£73,000) triple-axle – with side-mounted swivel auger discharging at 4.9m fully extended 4.5m to the side or at 1.8m to the rear or anywhere between.
Grainchaser with screw-fed, front-mounted auger discharging from 4.2m at 21cu m/min; three sizes: 24cu m tandem-axle £47,600; 32cu m tandem-axle £56,818; 40cu m triple-axle £74,473.