Thetford: Beet growers across eastern England watch latest harvesting equipment in action

Beet growers from across eastern England watched the latest harvesting equipment in action at a major demonstration near Thetford.

The latest top-of-the-range Vervaet 625 tanker harvester – which costs about �440,000 – was put through its paces on a former second world air station at Coney Weston, near Thetford.

The concrete roadways and the land at the Knettishall site, which had been provided by Colin Davey, ensured very good access to the demonstration staged by J Riley Harvesters, of Attlebridge, near Norwich.

The latest Maus cleaner loader, which had been on display at Agritechnica last November, was also another attraction as it rapidly loaded a fleet of lorries.

There was also keen interest in the Franz Kleine range of bunker trailers, which were demonstrated for the first time.

Jeremy Riley, who heads his 19-strong team of harvesting specialists, recognised that the concept of a dedicated trailer had not yet been accepted by growers.

It was ideal for building a good clamp. “And it makes it possible to keep mud off the road too,” he added. “With speed and efficiency, it works very well in tandem with a harvester like the Vervaet 617.”

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However, given that it was just 20 years ago that tanker harvesters were taken up, Mr Riley suggested that it was probably just a question of time.

As he explained contractor John Orford, of Fersfield, near Diss, had bought his first Vervaet tanker and was running his eighth harvester and his latest machine on the site.

Conditions were excellent for all the working machinery, said the host grower, John Wallis, who reflected that it had been the driest rainfall year since 1992.

And as the Vervaet harvester ran effortlessly across the former airfield, watched by a good crowd of growers, a large brown hare ambled across to another belt of sugar beet.

Mr Riley was well pleased with the turnout, which was a significant improvement on the weather at last year’s event at Erpingham, near Aylsham, when the heavens opened. It had also been the first day of the big thaw, when temperatures climbed to more than 10C, after weeks of sub-zero weather. Then the following week, the beet crop sustained major losses as the “big freeze” returned.

The giant tanker, which has a 25-tonne capacity hopper, also attracted much interest.

Mr Riley said that growers and contractors were keen to cut running and especially fuel costs and the switch to a leaner and more efficient 550hp engine had achieved dramatic reductions in fuel consumption.

“It has been cut by about a third and it is much better than the previous models,” he said.

With a work rate of at least two and a half acres an hour, Mr Riley, said it was a highly reliable robust machine. “Contractors will laugh and say you can easily do four or even five acres an hour but in my opinion, if you average 20 to 25 acres a day throughout the season, it is doing the business. What you want is a good steady run, reliable and keeping going.”

The 617 tanker was also probably the cheapest on the market to run. “Of all the machines on the markets, is the cheapest to run, cheapest on fuel and has very low fuel consumption.”

A hog roast, provided by North Norfolk butcher Carl Graves, of Graves of Briston, did a roaring trade through the day as growers, contractors and hauliers tucked into a generous filled roll containing locally reared pork.