David Williams travelled to a farm in Germany to see the latest Grimme harvesters in action.
Almost a year ago, at Lamma 2015, Grimme displayed its new walking share lifter option for sugar beet. During the 2015 season several machines have been operating with the new system, ahead of its general release for 2016. David Williams travelled to a farm in Germany to see the latest harvesters in action.
The demonstration was organised by main dealer Agravis Technik, on a farm approximately 60 miles from Hannover, and was well attended by beet growers from the region, keen to find out about the updated features offered by the new machines.
Farms in the area enjoy superb beet yields, up to 90t/ha during the 2014 season, and up to 80t/ha this year. “Yields this year are just below our 5-year average,” explained host farmer and beet harvesting contractor, Wilhelm Behn. “The growing season was very dry at first, and during early autumn, as the weather turned wetter, we were achieving yields of just 45t/ha, but within a few weeks of the rain starting the yields increased rapidly. It has been an interesting season as there is a lot of maize grown for biogas in the region and this suffered badly from the dry conditions. Beet are used to supplement the biogas, so farms often have both crops, and the beet recovered more rapidly and effectively than the maize, as the weather changed. Average field sizes to the east are 50-60ha, but to the west they are much smaller; from 7-25ha,” he explained.
Working at the event was a Grimme Maxtron 620 and a Rexor 930, as well as a high capacity Grimme beet chaser wagon.
The Maxtron is on rubber tracks at the front with a pair of large flotation tyres at the rear for steering, and it has a tank capacity of 22t. Lifting is by hydraulic-driven Oppel wheels, which pluck the beet from the ground, and the Maxtron uses a gentle, web-based cleaning and transport system.
The Rexor has large flotation wheels front and rear; two at the front directly below the cab, and four at the rear.
The machine has an offset crab steering system which allows it to travel with its body at an angle to the rows, so that the six wheels run out of line, spreading the weight across the entire work area, and reducing compaction. The Rexor is available with 22 or 30t hoppers, the 22t version having two axles while the 30t machine has three, and the steel turbine cleaning system provides aggressive cleaning and high work rates. Until this year, only Oppel wheel lifting systems have been available, but Grimme has recently introduced its walking share lifters as an option for the model, which are more versatile and suited to a wider variety of conditions.
The lifting shares were displayed at Agritechnica 2013, in pre-production form and six machines have been undergoing testing in countries including Germany, Poland, USA and Spain, to make sure they are capable of operating in all conditions and soil types. “There are advantages to both types of lifting,” explained Grimme sales manager for beet machinery Nicolas Sommer. “It is important to offer customers the choice so that they can decide which suits their needs better.”
The demonstration day clearly showed the differences between the machines, as both lifted the beet well and provided excellent cleaning in the muddy working conditions, but the Rexor was able to lift and clean the beet faster, but the gentler operation of the Maxtron meant beet unloaded from the machine had more of the tap root still intact, which would result in a very slightly higher saleable yield.
“We expect most customers to specify Oppel wheels for the Rexor, with 30 per cent opting for walking shares,” explained Nicolas. “In hard, dry working conditions the shares offer advantages but for those lifting in wetter muddy conditions the oppel wheels will be preferred.”
The walking shares are driven by a single cross-shaft, with a crank design to provide oscillation, and each lifter can be adjusted independently to suit the height of the beet in the rows. This is particularly useful when tramline wheelings are encountered as the operator can push the lifter down to lift the beet cleanly in the rows, returning the lifter to its standard position as soon as the lower row has been lifted. At the demonstration, the Rexor’s 9-row head was unsuitable for some areas of the field as the crop had been drilled using a 12-row drill, and where neighbouring bouts had a wide gap, it was necessary to lift just six rows at a time. Without the individual row control, the harvester would have picked up excessive quantities of soil, but with the new Grimme system the operator could lift the outer three shares, keeping them clear of the ground.
Each lifter also has stone protection, and is able to lift if a large obstruction is encountered. A gas accumulator provides the freedom of movement while maintaining pressure.
From the beet shares, the beet are transferred by paddle shaft to the roller table with its seven cleaning rollers for pre-cleaning and then to a transfer web between the front wheels. Nicolas explained that the available space between the front wheels is the main bottleneck for beet harvesters, the limited space restricting the beet flow and reducing speed of operation.
“We have worked hard to optimise the flow of beet between the wheels and, with our individual wheel drive motors, there is no full-width axle to compromise the available space. This means we have the largest gap between the wheels and the widest transfer web, so beet flow isn’t obstructed. A further benefit is that we can provide a tighter steering angle of 35 degrees and this means more efficient headland turns and better manoeuvrability generally.”
Two different topping heads were in action; the Rexor 930 equipped with an inline multi-topper, which uses both rubber and steel flails on the same shaft, followed by a microptopper which cuts a thin slice from the beet crown. The rubber flails are 60mm longer than the metal, removing the foliage first, while the steel flails then remove the leaf base. Leaves are deflected between the rows leaving the beet exposed for lifting, and the foliage is distributed across the full lifting width.
The Maxtron had the Inline front mulcher which is a twin-shaft topper with a mix of rubber and steel flails, the steel flails cutting the beet leaves and the rubber flails removing the leaves from the beet crown. The shafts contra-rotate, which means the rubber flails brush and remove the foliage from both sides of the crown. No separate scalper unit is required so losses to yield are minimised. The beet leaves are distributed across the operating width, between the beet.
Nicolas pointed out that the rubber flails are very popular with northern German factories, to reach higher yields and reduced sugar losses in the store. We expect longer campaigns, after 2016, with beet stored for longer after lifting,” he explained.
The Maxtron offers similar advantages to the Rexor, in terms of the wide transfer web, as the low overall height of the tracks allows the web to travel over them, allowing excellent clearance for the beet. A 2.7m wide trace provides excellent cleaning ahead of a web and roller cleaning system before being transferred to the bunker.
Conditions on the demonstration day were challenging, but, despite this the harvesters were able to continue working and both provided excellent results, cleaning the beet well, before unloading them on to a heap at the side of the field. With the crab steering of the Rexor and tracks of the Maxtron, there was little obvious ground damage. Losses were minimal, despite the conditions, and few beet could be seen on the surface.
As well as farming his own land, Wilhelm provides an agricultural contracting service to other farmers in the area including beet harvesting through his business, Contractor Schreiber GbR. His own beet crop extends to approximately 90ha, and he will harvest approximately 800ha (1,976 acres) in total this season, working up to a 60km radius from his base. Last year’s area was slightly more at 1,100ha (2,718 acres), and was the first during which two harvesters were operated – a Rexor 620, with hydraulic-driven Oppel wheels and the pre-production Rexor 930 machine with walking shares which was working at the demonstration. “We found that two machines were necessary, as the distances between work areas can be large,” he explained. “A lot of beet is established with 12-row planters which can cause issues when lifting with a 9-row harvester.”
Wilhelm said that the 9-row harvester has proved cheaper to operate, as there is only a 1kph reduction in operating speed despite the increase in the number of beet being lifted, but there have been issues where 12-row drills have been used.
“We have harvested approximately 500ha (1,235 acres), drilled with an 18-row seeder this year, and the remainder was drilled with a 12-row. The problem is that the future of the beet industry is uncertain. We expect the area of beet grown close to the factories to remain fairly constant, but if we lose some of the beet grown further afield we might return to using one machine. If this happens we would prefer to gain extra drilling so that we can establish beet with an 18-row drill, so that we can use a 9-row harvester, but if we are unsuccessful then we will need to return to 6-row lifting as this is independent of the seeder. This would mean running with a beet transport vehicle to maintain capacity. If I had the choice and could steer the market, then I would go to 9-rows and a single machine. Harvesting 1,000ha (2,470acres) with one 6-row machine could be difficult, due to the travelling distances involved, but we could manage it if we operate with a transport vehicle all the time,” he added.
“In our area, approximately 70 per cent of beet growers have formed farmer co-operatives to buy a harvester and lift their beet, with 30 per cent using contractors. We know there will be changes after 2016, but we don’t yet know what those changes will be.”
Asked about his preference for Grimme machines, Wilhelm explained that he moved to the brand in 2012. “The previous brand used shares for lifting, but in autumn 2010 we had a demonstration of a Grimme machine because the defoliator header unit seemed to offer advantages and there was customer demand – and it was the only company offering it. The manufacturer was relatively new to the beet harvester market, but the quality was as good as that of the longer-established brands and the factory was relatively near to us, so we ordered our first Grimme harvester, a 6-row with a 22t bunker. The Grimme dealer proved very good, and obviously had experience of the products and we found that Grimme’s own service team was always interested in any issues which occurred and gave the dealer excellent back-up.”
Having run two machines this season, one with Oppel wheels and the other with walking shares, Wilhelm observed that the hydraulic driven Oppel wheels of his Rexor and the demonstration Maxtron are more gentle and cause less bruising to the beet, but the walking shares are more flexible in hard, dry conditions as often occur in early September. He is harvesting in different areas with different soil conditions, and the walking shares are a better all-around solution which makes them an attractive option for his contracting business.
Pictured with the new Rexor 930 are Wilhelm Behn (left) and Nicolas Sommer.