�1m beet harvesters make light of Norfolk crops

A demonstration of beet harvesting on a west Norfolk estate featured more than �1m of the latest machinery at work.

Two of the largest machines from leading European potato harvester specialist, Grimme, were making light work of a 30-acre block of beet on Henry Birkbeck's Westacre estate, near Swaffham.

However, a smaller trailed machine, the Grimme Rootster, was attracting keen interest from a steady flow of visitors to the demonstration staged by agricultural engineers, Ben Burgess & Co.

The six-row machine, which has a four-tonne tank, has been designed for the farmer/ grower looking to lift between 800 acres and 1,000 acres during the annual campaign, said Glyn Argent, who is Grimme's sales manager for the south east.

He said that there were only two Rootster 604 models now at work in the country. 'I don't know why we haven't got 10 because there has been so much interest in the machine,' he added.

Although he recognised that the six-row self-propelled machines dominated the market with contractors looking to lift between 2,500 acres and 3,000 acres, there was growing interest from farmers in a machine capable of lifting about 1,000 acres.

On the host estate, farm manager Mike Lyles, said that the trailed 604 machine would lift about 800 acres of beet including some for another grower. It made it possible to spread the work through the winter and the Fendt tractor was used to drill beet.

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Mr Argent said that it could make sense for several growers each with about 300 acres to form a lifting syndicate with a single machine, which cost about �140,000. 'Most people have got a tractor powerful enough to put a topper on the front and power a six-row lifter.'

While it was lifting about a third less than a self-propelled, it was still clearing the same amount of ground although another tractor and driver was needed on the trailer.

He thought that there were some growers, who were prepared to run their own harvester or in a syndicate, partly because they would not be so reliant on contractors. For years the trend has been moving towards big machines and contractors.

'I sense that it is creeping back a little,' he added.

Richard Wales, of dealers Ben Burgess & Co, which had supplied the machine to the estate, said that the tractor's dual tyres gave more stability and straddled the rows.

With the increasing concerns about the impact of ground and soil compaction, Grimme's two six-row machines both incorporated features to minimise potential headaches.

The latest twin-tracked model, the Maxtron 620, which cost about �480,000, had a 20-tonne tank, had a lighter footprint than the wheeled version. While it reduced soil compaction, it was obviously much slower to move from farm to farm and was therefore less likely to appeal to a contractor, said Mr Argent.

It had a full-width bed cleaning system rather than turbines.

However, the firm's 'bread-and-butter' model, the Rexor, which was developed about three years ago and cost about �400,000, was designed for maximum output. With a roadspeed of close to 40kph, it could be moved quickly and easily from field to field, he said.

While Grimme was best known for potato harvesters, further models were on the cards. 'Gradually, we bring another model on the market, each year. We just keep at it. We're nibbling away at it.

'We're very much new kids on the block in terms of sugar beet,' said Mr Argent, who covers East Anglia and down into Kent. 'So we're working closely with Ben Burgess which is sole distributors for the East Anglian region.'