For 25 years, Grimme UK has developed into a household name among British farmers, with the bright red behemoths rolling out of the main UK depot in Lincolnshire and spreading the length and breadth of the country.
Alex Heath reports on the manufacturer’s silver anniversary...
Grimme’s story started with humble beginnings in a blacksmith’s shop in Damme, Germany, some century and a half ago, manufacturing and repairing machinery for local businesses in the Lower Saxony region.
However, it was a simple basket device, that fitted on to the spinning diggers of the day forming windrows, which would prove to be the company’s first major advancement into the manufacturing sector.
This, the invention of Franz Grimme, grandson of the founder, also called Franz, in 1936, eased the task of the workers who had to pick the potatoes. Named the Unerreicht, meaning unrivalled, it would lead to Grimme becoming a global super power in root harvesting technology.
In the early days of potato production in the UK, the soft soils of the Lincolnshire fenlands were the area of choice to grow, as destoners were not available at the time.
With tractors rising in popularity, the horse used to pull the Unrivalled was substituted, prompting Grimme to change propulsion method and open up to mechanisation.
In Yorkshire, the destoning concept was being spearheaded by Charles Creyke and, in 1956, Grimme cemented its position as a potato specialist with the introduction of the Universal harvester. In its first year of production, 47 machines were made.
By 1966 the company became the market leader within Germany for trailed harvesting technology with the single row Europa Standard, selling 13,500 units over its production cycle. UK-specific models capable of lifting two rows, such as the Concord and Britannia, gave British farmers a taste of high-capacity harvesting and the three-model GB range was introduced.
This was incredibly popular both domestically and overseas in Australia and New Zealand. The success of the GB and subsequent models such as the DR 1500 Series meant that by 1985, the two row market was also led by the company.
In 1993, it was decided the brand needed more focus in the UK than an importer could provide. A subsidiary of the German company was developed.
Based in Sleaford and starting with just seven employees dubbed ‘the magnificent seven’, they came to the new company from the previous importer. At that year’s Smithfield Show, one of the country’s most iconic destoners and the company’s first planter were unveiled.
The CS1500 and 1700 were the first machines to show the company’s still popular CombiStar separation system. The VL30 planter would also change the planting concept going forward, as it used a shaping hood to cover the tubers rather than bodies as used on competitors’ machines.
Almost instantly, other manufacturers changed to the Grimme system that remains prevalent today.
The team in command of the new UK-based operation had a frenetic period of demonstrations and product testing, culminating in 1996, once again at the Smithfield Show.
Here, they debuted the revolutionary GZ1700DL1 harvester, along with reworked models of the destoners and planters launched three years previously. The GL32B planter launched at the show was the first to be manufactured in-house and is still in the firm’s product portfolio today.
The GZ was a step forward in harvester design that has remained relevant throughout the subsequent years. The harvester featured a cascade, ‘wavy web’ design that was gentle on the crop, while removing soil and trash.
Although a few teething problems were encountered, namely the design of the main web, which featured overlap joiners that struggled to deal with the stress put on them in wet conditions, the agitation provided by the steel rollers the web ran around proved successful.
By the end of that year’s harvest, the larger GZ DLS was in production and featured a short digging web, putting the crop on to the main web, alleviating the stresses seen previously, while retaining the cascade effect.
The Multi-Sep concept synonymous with the Grimme brand was also featured on the machine, as a replacement to the popular Roller Separator. Initially, the system comprised four large paddle stars, sandwiched between smaller rubber rollers.
However, innovation from the now Swineshead-based team saw the paddle elements wrapped in rubber matting, a rudimentary version of the now standard spiral rollers.
Close communication between the UK team and German engineers saw them develop the rubber spirals, retaining the air pockets providing cushioning to the crop.
In the run-up to the millennium and just after, a lot of work and excitement surrounded the company’s development of high-output self-propelled harvesters. Already famed for the world’s first self-propelled harvester way back in 1969, the company was experiencing demand from UK growers for more output and separation capability.
Several machines were designed and marketed, but it was the two-row SF1700GBS that found the most favour with growers, both large and small.
Emphasis on the high output sector continued, with both trailed and self-propelled machines proving popular with UK growers.
Launched in 2006, the GT170 has now sold more than 2,000 units in the UK. The legendary harvester has helped Grimme command 85 per cent of the trailed harvester market, by improving on the advances made in the GZ range.
The new GT harvester came in two variants ‘M’ and ‘S’ and offered greater separation than previous machines and competitor models, with the ability to have double Multi-Sep units fitted with 90 per cent sold in that configuration.
At the same time, the SF170GT2 was launched in three variants.
Using similar technology to the trailed harvesters, the name for the self-propelled machines was soon changed to Varitron.
Continuing the theme of self-propelled root harvesting, in 2003 the company launched its first sugar beet harvester, the Maxtron.
At the time, the majority of the harvesters in service in the UK used walking shares to lift the beets, whereas Grimme decided to use the continental system of oppel wheels.
The reaction of farmers and contractors alike was split, some in favour of the softer handling method, some unsure of its viability.
In what was a contractor-led industry, initial sales were low, due to scepticism over the system and a fear of the unknown.
In 2007, the Rootster six-row trailed beet harvester was launched, quickly followed by the Rexor 620 self-propelled machine.
This was followed in 2015 by the tri-axle Rexor 630 and, taking on board customer feedback, the company now offers a walking share option on the machines.
It is a recurring theme with the company that it is not afraid to try something new and pioneering.
This was the case in 2009 when the MaxiBed was unveiled.
It featured a range of machines designed to work beds of 270cm, rather than the standard 180cm.
The logic behind the system was to achieve a more homogeneous crop by reducing the number of plants growing in the edges of beds and reducing the number of passes up and down the field.
It did not take off, as it would have required a wholesale change of cultivation and harvesting equipment.
Over the years, Grimme has invested heavily in purchasing other companies, taking over US potato handling specialist Spudnik in 2003.
It has allowed Grimme to accelerate its offering of products designed stateside, into Europe and vice-versa.
Its latest acquisition of ASA-Lift, a Danish company in 2013, also opened the door to the vegetable sector, with ASA-Lift providing harvesting solutions to a range of different and niche crops.
An innovative and proactive approach has seen Grimme climb to the fore of the UK root crop industry, particularly where potatoes are concerned. Developments in cultivation and separation technology, where the company sees its Air-Sep concept playing a big role, will, they hope, see the company through another 25 years.