The success of sugar beet harvesters that lift more than six rows has been hampered by insufficient returns for the additional investment and higher running costs. Vervaet claims its new nine-row model overcomes these issues. Martin Rickatson reports.
The economic theory of boosting sugar beet harvester output by lifting more than six rows per pass has never seemed to stack up in practice for UK growers and contractors. While spot outputs from the nine- and twelve-row machines that have been introduced in the past have proven higher in some circumstances than those of comparable six-row harvesters, the additional initial outlay, extra running costs and issues with manoeuvrability, weight and topper transport have hit their uptake, as has the lack of wider drills.
Dutch sugar beet harvester specialist Vervaet says a continuing reduction in the number of beet contractors and development of 18-row drills, making nine-row lifting more practical due to reduced joins, means for some growers and contractors the numbers behind nine-row harvesting are worth reconsidering. Having previously retailed a small number of nine-row machines in the UK since Vervaet introduced its first in 2001, before latterly focusing in recent years on six-row models, importer J. Riley Beet Harvesters has recently re-entered the UK nine-row market with Vervaet’s latest design, the Beet Eater Evo 925.
Cost efficiency is aided by basing the new machine largely around the framework of the established Beet Eater Evo 625 six-row model, and the Evo 925 shares the same 623hp MTU/Mercedes-Benz engine, Sauer Danfoss hydraulic system and rear twin-wheel turntable/twin front axle format, with the facility to offset the front wheels when lifting to spread machine weight across six paths covering the full working width.
The new machine also benefits from the same 8.5-metre turning circle, optional automatic levelling technology and 25-tonne capacity hopper. There is, though, a redesigned discharge elevator, which offers both lower and higher unloading extremities, ranging from 1.9-4.5m, compared with the Evo 625’s 2.5-4m.
Apart from its front-end working width, the Evo 925 shares exactly the same dimensions as the Evo 625, and weighs just 2.5t more. To eliminate the need to remove the topper for transport, the firm has developed a side-shift and fold system, while in work it offers the established Vervaet option of either mulching or spreading tops. Scalper height is adjustable from the cab.
Next up come lifting units configured in three sets of three rows. Vervaet’s answer to the need for flexibility depending on drill type used is a design where these can be operated in fixed format when working in crops sown with nine- or 18-row drills, or as separate units where planting has been conducted with six- or 12-row machines. Hydraulic row-width adjustment is standard. The Evo 925 also features a revised depth control arrangement which uses a steel wheel-sensing system claimed to provide smoother depth governance, plus long share legs to provide easier crop passage.
Beet then make their way through a cleaning arrangement comprising a series of eight cleaning turbines. It is also possible to specify the machine with an alternative system comprising an axial roller bed and either seven or eight cleaning turbines.
Tyre equipment has been uprated over that available on Vervaet’s last nine-row harvester, to further improve flotation and soil protection. Up front, 800/70 R38s are fitted to both leading axles, and at the rear is a pair of 900/60 R32s, while a variable tyre pressure system is an option.
Meanwhile, for the first time, buyers can now specify GPS-controlled in-cab monitoring and weighing for yield mapping and recording of harvesting data.
The company’s Robin Vervaet says: “It’s an option we have invested some time in developing, in conjunction with weighing system manufacturer Greentronics and using John Deere receiver and Greenstar terminal technology.
“There has been increasing interest in being able to yield map beet fields in order to help identify areas where yield performance could be boosted in future, and the reasons for certain parts of fields performing less well than others. We can now offer harvester buyers the ability to install a system from the factory, and make use of precision farming elements they may already have, such as control terminal/screen and GPS receiver.”
Jeremy Riley, managing director of J. Riley Beet Harvesters, Vervaet’s UK importer, says he believes the circumstances are right for his company and for certain potential buyers to revisit the nine-row concept.
“From 2001-08 we sold a small number of Vervaet’s previous nine-row model, which confirmed the potential of 50% more capacity in each pass. But as the development of six-row machines moved forward, in areas such as depth control, turbine and trace size and engine power, the additional ability of a nine-row machine became less appealing for many customers when put against the investment required.
“Nine-row technology has now caught up, and as the number of contractors continues to shrink, while those that remain are taking on larger areas, there will be those for whom the numbers stack up.
“I can foresee new buyers running nine-row machines across maximum possible acreages for five-seven years in order to make them pay.”
As an example from the demo day, the 925 was lifting 1.4 hectares/hour and using 30 litres/ha of fuel, while the 625 also in the field averaged 1ha/hour and 39 litres/ha, with both working at 6-8km/hour, added Mr Riley.
“But those figures are only a demonstration day guideline for comparing relative performances – both machines are capable of better in a full working situation.”
Having run three nine-row harvesters at separate points in the past, Nottinghamshire sugar beet contractors J.P. Plowright and Son has considerable experience with the concept, and the downsides of previous machine designs. With two of its three six-row machines having made way for a single new nine-row Vervaet 925 Evo this season, the business’ Ed Plowright thinks the design and the economics behind the nine-row harvester now make sense.
He says: “We first ran two harvesters in 2013 following a big expansion in our acreage, putting 1,520ha through them, up from 1,140ha the previous year.
“Since then that area has grown to 1,640ha. But while we have run nine-row harvesters in the past, ultimately we couldn’t make the extra outlay and running costs of the nine-row harvesters we ran in the past stack up against six-row models. We moved away to a solely six-row fleet, comprising two 17-tonne holding capacity four-wheel Vervaet 617 models and a 25t six-wheel 625.”
But with the business’ contract area continuing to increase to around 3,000ha across a 70- to 80-mile radius from its base at Barnston, near Langar, it was decided this past season to return in part to nine-row harvesting and replace the two 617s with a nine-row 925 Evo, the first to be sold in the UK.
“Running one less harvester and needing one less operator makes management easier, but although we know Vervaet machines well, we wanted to be sure the 925 Evo offered the design to complement its ability to lift nine rows.
“The lifting unit revisions and the steel wheel depth control fitted in place of feelers are a big improvement over our old nine-row machine, while the longer share legs are also welcome, improving clearance over the top of the crop. Turbine flow into the front of the machine is noticeably better with the additional central turbine compared to the 625, and the wider 1.7m elevator makes tank unloading swifter.
“We’ve also found significant fuel efficiency and performance gains with the new machine over our last nine-row model.
“This is also the first harvester we’ve had with yield mapping capability, and we’re in the early stages of judging its potential. I’m hoping that ultimately we can encourage customers to recognise its value and potential for improving their returns on the crop.”