The tale of the Tiger and the Mouse
Posted on March 30, 2012 by Katrin Beck, Images by Ropa
Only in Bavaria: Why beet harvesters and beet loaders are named after animals.
Early September. The days are getting shorter and lush green crop fields being turned into bare brown expanses inside a few hours. Along the edges, sugar beets are stacked up in piles many meters long. What you don’t see from the outside is that under the heaps of sugar beet it is absolutely teeming with mice who have discovered it is warm and dry in there. Unfortunately, they can’t enjoy that cozy comfort for very long. Only a few days after harvesting, the sugar beets are gathered up and cleaned by a large loader. Somewhat paradoxically, it is called a Mouse.
The beet loader was invented by Erich Fischer. When the backyard tinkerer from Eggmühl in Bavaria tried out his home-made beet loader in a field for the first time, the mice fled. Because the machine couldn’t pick up all the beets in the beginning, the farm workers shoveled the leftovers onto the loader with pitchforks. And every time a mouse was seen scurrying out of the beet pile, they shouted, “There goes a mouse”. Soon Fischer came to be known among farmers as “the man with the mouse”. He sold the patent for his beet loader to the agricultural machinery manufacturer Ropa in 1987. But the name mouse stuck. “Nobody has heard of a beet cleaner/loader but everyone knows the Ropa Mouse,” explains Michael Gruber. He is an engineer at Ropa and involved in the ongoing development of Fischer’s Mouse design.
When the day arrives, the work starts with the Tiger – a massive yellow machine almost 15 meters long and a good three meters wide. As soon as the defoliator unit is lowered, the flails start to remove the leaves from the beets. Next comes the topper unit, which slices off the leaf stalks and the very tops of the beets. In the third stage, the lifting shares – blades resembling plow shares – lift the beets out of the ground and gather them up. Various strainers on the Tiger clean the dirt off the beets at the same time as conveying them to the storage hold. Once the hold is full, the Tiger unloads the beets at the edge of the field to form a long pile. Then along comes the big Mouse and chases away all the little mice that have taken advantage of the cover provided by the beet stack. It extends its rollers to a width of ten meters as it approaches the beet pile. They literally drag in the beets and convey them upwards through the Mouse. In the process, the beets go through a second cleaning phase before passing along a conveyor and ending up in the back of a truck. A Mouse beet loader can collect and convey as much as 300,000 tonnes of sugar beet in a season.
The Tiger is in use for roughly 50 days a year. In that time it harvests up to 100,000 tonnes of beet. The Mouse then needs up to 120 days to load the gigantic beet stacks onto the trucks. From the beginning of September to the last of the beet in January, it is working for between 1,800 and 2,000 hours. “In that time the machines must not fail on any account,” Gruber relates. Because, if the weather changes, it could destroy tonnes and tonnes of harvest. Ropa has put its faith in dependable and powerful mtu engines for many years. The Tiger harvester is powered by an eight-cylinder mtu Series 502 engine capable of close to 600 bhp. A Series 926 unit provides the power for the Mouse. “These engines can run for as long as 10,000 hours without major maintenance. That is the most important criterion for our clients,” Gruber elucidates. And he points out another advantage they offer: “These models are based on Daimler technology. You can buy spare parts for them anywhere in the world. That is crucial, because in the harvesting season we have to be able to supply them within a matter of hours.”
The Ropa Tiger and Mouse can be found on farms all over the world. As well as in Germany, France and Poland, which are the largest beet producers in Europe, you can see the big yellow machines on fields in Russia, the Ukraine and Moldavia as well. Mouse and Tiger will be found working in America and Canada too. And since 2010, Ropa has been making its first inroads into China. There are already seven machines in service there and six more are on order for Chinese farms. Wherever these harvesters and loaders do their jobs, the farmers are reminded every autumn once again why one of the machines is called a Mouse.