New $700,000 sugar beet harvester makes job a lot easier
MURDOCK, Minn. - It's a warm fall morning that followed enough rain to make fields slimy and prone to deep tractor-tire ruts, but a bright yellow behemoth of a machine is having no trouble gliding across a sugar beet field near Priam.At a steady ...
MURDOCK, Minn. - It's a warm fall morning that followed enough rain to make fields slimy and prone to deep tractor-tire ruts, but a bright yellow behemoth of a machine is having no trouble gliding across a sugar beet field near Priam.
At a steady pace, the Ropa Tiger V8-4 sugar beet harvester sliced off the green leaves and gently shook soil away from the sugar beets. It then moved them to a whirring cylinder inside the self-propelled machine, removing even more dirt before beets were shuttled to the 28-ton capacity hopper tank on top of the machine.
When the large-capacity tank became full, a tractor with an equally large-capacity Big Bear brand beet cart sidled alongside and the beets were transferred. As the Ropa kept harvesting more beets, the tractor and cart went to the end of the field to fill a waiting semi.
The two-person team that worked this field earlier this month during a demonstration of the German-made Ropa sugar beet harvester represents half the workforce and half the equipment needed compared to conventional sugar beet harvesting, said Alex Everson, owner of Ace Ag Inc. of Murdock, who is now a certified service mechanic for Ropa.
It also represents a slow, but growing trend in sugar beet harvesting in Minnesota.
Ropa beet harvesters are in 40 countries, but there are only five in Minnesota, with three of them in west central Minnesota, including Raymond, Bird Island and Hector.
Since the harvesters first arrived on the scene here three or four years ago, Ropa sent people such as Burkhard Mueller from Germany to Minnesota a couple times a year to check the machines over for their customers and conduct demonstrations for other curious sugar beet farmers.
That's what Mueller was doing last week at the Priam sugar beet field farmed by Tim Ahrenholz, who farms with his father and brother.
"It's new and upcoming," Ahrenholz said, as he watched Mueller harvest his beets. "I want to stay on top of the technology."
With the conventional method, Ahrenholz said he typically needs two beet toppers pulled by tractors, a sugar beet lifter that's pulled by another tractor and someone to drive a tractor pulling a beet cart.
Instead of four pieces of equipment, four tractors and four people, Ahrenholz said the Ropa can do the work with two pieces of equipment and two people.
Because there are fewer vehicles traversing the fields and because the Ropa has large tracks and tires that gives it the ability to move sideways so the rear tires don't follow in the same tracks as the front tires, there is less dirt compaction.
That could have a positive impact on yields the following year, Ahrenholz said. "So far, I'm impressed."
With a price of around of $700,000, the initial investment would be significant and would have to be weighed against the cost of additional equipment and labor of traditional harvest methods, Ahrenholz said.
"We think it's going to be the way in the future, although they're very new to the area," Ahrenholz said. "There aren't that many around yet, but there's more and more all the time."
To help meet that growing need, Ropa sought out and trained Everson and one of his employees to service Ropa sugar beet harvesters.
Everson began his business in 1999 by working from his truck. After he built a shop in 2013 in Murdock, his business grew 40 percent in one year.
His primary work is servicing John Deere ag equipment and large commercial vehicles, but now he's added the Ropa beet equipment to his list.
Besides providing service, Everson also provides parts support for the Ropa beet harvesters.
Because Ropa's all-in-one design does the job of two implements in one pass - and the harvesters are able to shake off more dirt and get more of the root tail than traditional lifters - it's getting good reviews from local owners.
"They like the machines," Everson said. "We're driving through mud out here and we're able to go."
Everson praised the engineering of the machine, the easy-to-follow repair manuals and interchangeable parts that he said make it easier to do repairs.
Everson said annual maintenance costs for the Ropa are lower than a conventional pull-type harvester.
The harvesters are built in Germany and shipped completely assembled. Ropa has a North American subsidiary in Ontario, Canada, where the Big Bear beet carts are made using Ropa's German-made hydraulics and chains.
Even though there's a local mechanic here now, Mueller said Ropa representatives from Germany will continue to come to Minnesota to touch base with customers and try to respond to their needs, including potentially expanding the current eight-row header to 12 rows.
With sensors that guide the machine through the beet rows, cameras and a small TV monitor that show the beets moving through the machine to the on-board bunker, Mueller said the cab of the unit "looks like an aircraft," but he said it's quite easy to operate.
The Ropa Tiger 4 model will be kept at Everson's Murdock shop and is available for sale, for rent or for additional demonstrations.