What Is a Beet Harvester?

Judith Smith Sullivan

A beet harvester is a large piece of farming machinery specifically designed to gather ripened beets from a field. They are quite large — about the same size as combines and harvesters — as they are designed to collect beets from industrial sized beet farms. A harvester can be driven or pulled behind a tractor. Like many farming machines, the beet harvester is complex and requires many parts to function. Generally, this includes a vehicle, a topper, the beet collector mechanism, the conveyor belt, and the holding crate.

Ripened beets can be pulled from a field using a beet harvester.
Ripened beets can be pulled from a field using a beet harvester.

Smaller beet harvesters are pulled behind a tractor. A larger harvester, however, may itself be a vehicle. In this case, it must have the capacity of a tractor, including the ability to maneuver several tons of machinery and crop.

Small beet harvesters are pulled behind tractors.
Small beet harvesters are pulled behind tractors.

Before harvesting, the beet is separated from its foliage by a topper, a trimming mechanism that slices the leafy green tops off of the beet. Typically, the greenery is crushed, minced, or sliced and returned to the ground. The topper must be adjusted to remove the correct amount of foliage. Too little, and parts of leaves and stems will remain attached to the beets. Too much, and the topper will remove part of the beet, reducing the yield.

The topped beets are then scooped out of the earth with two wheels, placed side by side at an angle. As the wheels pass over a beet, the shape of the beet causes the angle of the wheels to shift back, pulling the beet with it. The depth of penetration and width of the wheels can be adjusted. Spacing of rows differs from farm to farm, depending on the equipment used to sow the beets, and the harvester must be able to accommodate a variety of row widths.

After the beet is topped and scooped from the ground, it is passed to a conveyor belt. The main purpose of the belt is to transfer the beet into the holding crate, but sometimes the belts are also designed to shake off excess dirt from the vegetable. The operator harvests beets until the holding crate is full, after which the beets must be transferred to another vehicle.

Industrial sized harvesters typically work with four to nine rows at a time, depending on the machine itself. In some cases, the rows are not planted evenly or straight, but the beet harvester may be equipped to adjust for minor discrepancies. Computer terminals in the cabin allow the driver to adjust the machine without stopping the beet harvester or leaving the cabin.

Some beet harvesters use a global positioning system (GPS) to determine a course for the harvester. The beet harvester follows the programmed course, allowing the operator to devote his or her attention to the crop. If problems occur with the collection, the operator is more likely to notice them if he or she is not solely focused on directing the harvester.

Fresh sugar beets are whitish roots that look slightly similar to turnips.
Fresh sugar beets are whitish roots that look slightly similar to turnips.

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