When Kelly Sharpe discusses sugarbeet harvester adjustments and operation, he does so from several different perspectives: (1) as the son of a longtime sugarbeet grower who also set up farm equipment for central Red River Valley implement dealers for many years; (2) as a former quality control specialist for a sugarbeet harvester manufacturer; (3) as a beet processor agriculturalist and harvest loss team leader; and (4) as a harvest educator who has presented seminars and clinics in several U.S. sugarbeet regions.*
So when Sharpe is asked for his thoughts on the most common problems he sees or hears about when it comes to harvesting sugarbeets, his response merits attention.
“It still comes back to the ‘most basic of the basics’ — speed and depth,” he states. “If you pull into almost any piling station, whether you’re in Idaho or the Red River Valley, you’re going to see a certain amount of variability in beet loads. Some look fantastic, while the next one looks a little ‘rag-tag.’
“I appreciate the field variability factor. I completely understand that you can get on a ditch bank, for instance, and have some [digging issues]. But the point to be made is that travel speed and digging depth are still your two most critical items.”
He quickly adds a third as well: the throttle. “Speeding up or slowing down the rpm’s will make huge adjustments in the way beets are coming off the lifter wheel,” Sharpe points out, “or in the way the grab rolls are cleaning off dirt or chewing up beets.”
Aside from the above three operating variables, “the most important adjustment on the harvester is what you do with that lifter wheel: pinch points, making sure your wheels are not bent or worn, getting the beets pulled out of the ground without snapping off tails,” Sharpe remarks. Getting as many whole, undamaged roots into the transport truck is not only good for the grower’s pocketbook; it also means fewer problems in the beet pile.
Sharpe cites harvester struts as one area where many growers tend not to give adequate attention. “The thinking often is, ‘It pulls a little that way, it pulls a little this way; not a big deal,’ ” he says. “We talk about pinch point, e.g., you should be at 1-3/4 or 1-7/8 inch. So a grower will measure and determine he is at 1-7/8. But if the bearings are bad and the wheel moves back and forth a little when I turn it, now I might be at 1-3/4; then, when it actually goes into the ground, I may have a 2-1/4 inch pinch point.”
That’s why Sharpe developed the “Harvester Strut Checklist." It’s important, he emphasizes, to go through this checklist in sequence — i.e., “Struts Tight,” then “Wheels Tight,” then “Wheels Straight,” etc. Paying close attention to the “Widest Point” as well as the “Pinch Point” is key, he adds.
Why? “Every year, you have a row behind where your sprayer tracks are. That row was pressed down, compacted. So those pinch wheels work harder.
“Sometimes those spindles will start going flat. So when you do your measurement up top, you may find, for example, that you’re at 17 inches on top and 2 inches at the bottom; then, on the next row, you may be 16 inches on top and 3 at the bottom. Or, worse yet, you could end up with a 15-inch and 2-inch because you pulled extra shims to get that pinch point down to where you wanted it.
“When you subtract the difference between the two, that difference should always be within 1/4 to 1/2 inch on all the rows.”
“Row Spacing” is another harvester site where close attention is rewarded. “You would be amazed at how many people find out their row spacings are not fully accurate,” Sharpe observes, “because when they were set up, someone may have gone 22-22-22, etc., instead of using a long tape that went 22, 44, 66, 88 and so forth.”
The main point Sharpe makes regarding struts is this: “If you get the beets into that harvester in good condition, the grab rolls won’t be nearly as aggressive on them. But if a nice beet comes up from the ground and gets pulled sideways because your pinch points aren’t where they should be, it’s a problem.
“When beets get beat up, oftentimes it’s the grab roll activity that gets blamed — when, in fact, the problem actually started ‘up front.’ ”
The strut checklist obviously is a regimen that needs addressing prior to harvest. As far as in-harvest adjustments (other than speed, digging depth and throttle), Sharpe brings up two “really key spots that often don’t get adjusted during harvest like they should be — things that truly change during the season.”
The first is the wheel scraper. “It’s adjusted over winter or during prepile so that it’s set to scrap the mud out nicely. It works great in the early mud; then things get a little drier and that scalper becomes worn. Initially it’s touching wheel-to-scraper and keeps things clean. But then, as we run 300, 400 or more acres through that machine, all of a sudden there’s an 8-inch gap — and it just rained 2 inches.
“That’s a real good time to check up on and clean off those scrapers. I know they’ll get muddy again, but get them out to where they’re supposed to be.”
The second in-season adjustment that often gets neglected is paddleshaft-to-wheel clearance. “I wouldn’t want my paddle touching on the wheel at all,” Sharpe says. “But if you get into wet conditions, you’re going to have issues if you let mud build up on that wheel. If the wheel was 3/16 inch thick and all of a sudden you’ve added another quarter inch of mud on each side, well, your pinch point just got a half inch narrower.” — Don Lilleboe
* Kelly Sharpe is agronomist and co-owner with GK Technology, Inc., a precision farm software and mapping company headquartered in Halstad, Minn. He can be contacted at Kelly@gktechinc.com or via the company website: www.gktechinc.com.
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower