Near year-round lift for top carrot set-up
Lifting carrots in almost
a year-round operation calls
for effective management
and an impressive array
of machinery, as
Geoff Ashcroft found out
on a recent visit to Aberdeen
and Moray Growers
WITH only five full-time employees and a heavy investment in machinery, farmer co-op Aberdeen and Moray Growers (AMG) considers itself in the big league among carrot producers.
Each year, it aims to harvest about 27,000t of carrots for distribution to big supermarket chains.
"We supply our sister company Howegarden UK in Turriff with a specific tonnage of carrots each week, and to ensure targets are met, we rely on a highly mechanised harvesting system using only self-propelled machines," says John Taylor, manager of AMG.
Based at Mains of Glack, Inverurie, it is a business which sees carrots grown through Aberdeenshire, Morayshire, Angus and Perthshire, extending the season to an almost year-round operation.
"We start drilling the early crop in February, while the main crop is drilled from March to May," says Mr Taylor. "Harvesting earlies then starts at the beginning of July and takes us straight into the main crop."
Protecting the carrots from frost – usually with a deep layer of straw – means harvesting the main crop can continue right through winter, finishing at about the end of May.
"We get a break in June for a few weeks before we start lifting the early crop again, about four weeks later," he says. "It creates an opportunity to check and service the machinery."
AMGs methodical approach to crop production ensures that carrots reach supermarket shelves throughout the year. It is also one which demands that harvesting equipment is reliable and capable of operating in conditions when even a 4×4 would have trouble crossing a field.
Harvesting at AMG is the domain of two self-propelled Horsch three-wheelers saddled with ASA-Lift bunker-type harvesting rigs – one is a relatively young 352hp TT351, while the other is a 250hp Horsch 250 which also doubles as a swede harvester and uses a belt lifter to pluck carrots from the ground. The TT351 is a share lifter and, together, the harvesters represent an investment approaching £350,000.
"It is a big investment" Mr Taylor acknowledges. "But when compared to a trailed harvesting system, this is streets ahead.
"We do not need tractors and trailers churning around fields. Each harvester can hold about 5t of crop before it needs to run to the headland and unload into a waiting lorry trailer, then the carrots go straight to Howegarden for packing.
"Harvesting is easy when ground conditions are dry, but in the winter, it is a different game altogether and this is where the Horsch machines come into their own," he says. "There is barely a day when we cannot harvest and there is sufficient capacity in the harvesters to catch up, if we need to."
Unladen weight of the Horsch-based harvesters is about 23t, rising to 28t when loaded. And spread over three very wide tyres, amounts to a laden ground pressure of about 5psi.
"You really cant see any damage in the field, despite the physical size and bulky appearance of the harvesters," says Mr Taylor. "When the going gets tough, the harvesters simply keep working when trailed machines would have to stop."
Appearances can be deceptive. With drive to all three wheels and the ability to turn on one rear wheel, they can hardly be described as cumbersome, clumsy or slow.
On a good day, the more powerful TT351 has the ability to fill a 25t bulk trailer in about 30 minutes – and output does not slow much when conditions deteriorate.
Using two different lifting techniques gives Mr Taylor the flexibility to maximise output and maintain crop quality.
"Early carrots are top lifted because it leaves most of the soil behind and is also easier to get a cleanly cut carrot top," he says.
Share lifting starts when the carrot tops become too brittle to top lift. And it is a technique which requires carrots to be topped before lifting, then the crop is passed over a cleaning web at the headland before being loaded on to the lorries.
When carrots are under straw, however, the system draws on additional labour to first remove straw using a self-propelled forager, before the protective polythene is removed and the bed brushed before the harvester goes in.
"In each approach to harvesting, we try to minimise the amount of disruption to the soil surface, while producing a constant flow of carrots to the supermarkets. *