By Karri Keller
While the local sugar beet harvest has come and gone this year, some local farmers are reaping the rewards of new harvest technology that has come to Idaho fields. By combining two harvesting machines into one, harvest time has been cut in half, beets are cleaner and fewer beet trucks are needed.
There are 5,100 acres of beets planted that are harvested each year fulfilling Amalgamated Sugar contracts from approximately 31 farmers in Kuna, Melba and south Nampa. Planted between March and May first, the beets are one of the longer crops grown in the area with a harvest time beginning in October and through the first half of November.
The traditional way of farming sugar beets uses one machine called the topper that cuts the foliage to prevent it re-growing in the harvest piles, and another machine called the digger that pulls out the sugarbeets and dumps them in to trucks driving alongside. The beets are then delivered mostly by farmer-owned trucks to specific weigh stations or to the Amalgamated Sugar plant in Nampa. Some of these beet trucks sit unused every year until harvest time and require farmers to hire temporary help just for the harvest.
This year, Transystems, a contract harvesting company that operates in the Midwest and Western United States, purchased the new equipment specifically for the 2013 harvest. Shipped from Germany, the new Holmer “Terra Dos T3” harvester 520HSP tanker takes the place of a beet topper and digger and does both duties with just one operator. This machine weighs over 19 tons and can maneuver its way through the either 8-row or 6-row beet fields. The T3 then harvests the beets and loads them into its own self-contained cart, which holds about 20 tons. Then that can be carried to the end of the field and emptied in about 45 seconds.
Once the beets dry for a few days at the side of the field, the self-propelled cleaner/loader processes up to 550 tons of beets per hour and loaded on to Transystem’s semi-trucks for transport to the Nampa plant where the cleaned beets arrive for processing. Transystems keeps these harvest and cleaning machines running 24 hours a day with multiple driver shifts to maximize their use during harvest.
The process allows dirt to remain in the fields and reduce the number of trucks on the road keeping it safer for other drivers in the area. Prior to this new system, beets that were harvested wet would hold on to more dirt and mud making for heavier loads and messing up fields with multiple trucks driving through the soil. Wet conditions also slow the harvest time and the dirty beets also required additional cleaning at the processing plant.
“It went well,” said George Schroeder, Crop Consultant for Amalgamated Sugar, on how he thought this first year’s harvest performance went. “It was like all things that are new to the industry, improvements in several aspects are necessary but the new technology has its place in the industry, I believe.“
“I am willing to do it next year, but change the placement of the beet fields so they are closer to the road so that the Transystem’s trucks don’t get stuck in the muddy field, ” said local farmer Layne Thornton. Other local farmers who participated in the new harvest method this year included Dave Reynolds and Dwayne Yamamoto