Alby Farming Company Put Auditions Rockstar

Alby Farming Company grows around 500 acres of potatoes in North East Norfolk over a diverse range of soil types from light and sandy through to really heavy. So flexibility is a major factor in selecting their de-stoning equipment.

Up until 2008, they had operated 3 de-stoners. “But we recognised that 2 ½ would suit our needs best!” explained Mike England, Alby’s Farm Manager.

CTM offered to hire them two of their new ‘Rockstar’ de-stoner separators with the claim that they would meet the company’s needs. Using them over the next planting season proved this to be true.

Their success was largely due to the versatility of their heavy duty top scrubber web and how it complemented the star separators.

“With our previous machines we could only adjust the top web into either ‘up’ or ‘down’ positions”, says tractor driver Shane Buck. The Rockstar top web came with adjustable speed, tension and direction controls to soil conditions, including reverse drive for heavy soils. This gives the driver total control of separation and soil flow.

“On heavy soils it holds the clods against the stars effectively breaking them down. On stony ground we lift the web clear so stones pass through quickly and without obstruction and on sandy soil the web helps shift the sand through the machine”.

As a result Alby Farming Company are now able to plant areas that would have been considered unworkable for potatoes five years ago, typically being too heavy for breaking up.

Shane also appreciated the simplicity of the HMI in-cab controls which reduced multiple actions at the headland to literally a single button operation, raising and lowering the machine and sliding the conveyor into position for the next run. The inbuilt diagnostics are useful should a problem arise.

The machine is also shorter at 7.3m than he was previously driving, making it more manoeuvrable.

Rockstar has automatic levelling through hydraulically controlled axle legs, ensuring even digging depth across the bed and working angle regardless of soil depth in the wheelings. On slopes the machine level may be pre-set to compensate for field angle, automatically reversing this on end turn-around.

Video cameras show wheel position and rear view. Shane finds this particularly useful on slopes and bends and much more effective than using his mirrors in keeping joints tight, vital in eliminating later problems especially with spraying.

Mike England has three priorities when selecting machinery: output, backup and running costs. He admits he was worried that CTM as a smaller company might have problems on backup.

“Although there were numerous issues, CTM worked with us and they have never run away from a problem”.

“We aim to complete 12.5 acres on a good day of 10 hours working with each machine” says Mike England “giving 10 to 12 inches of stone picked soil for 6” to 7” above and 3” below the planted seed potatoes. The 1.50m wide webs give a 1.83m wheeling and ‘a good fit’ for the rest of the field kit.

“Any body can go quicker but you don’t always end up with the job you want. For example the Diablo wheel can rise if the operator goes too fast, potentially giving a false reading”.

For all that, Shane admits that with the Rockstar he is driving faster than before.

“The important thing is keeping the team together” says Mike. “We have a team of 5 working a ridger, 2 Rockstars, a two row planter and a forklift. They arrive together and they leave together. There is no point in the de-stoners getting too far ahead of the planter.

“And this is where two de-stoners can be better utilised than three. Driver skills are variable and with 3 you invariably have a faster driver, a moderate and a slower one. With 2 you can alternate the fast and the slower driver to maintain pace throughout the day and you can keep the machines apart on the field. And of course it saves on one tractor”.

CTM have provided wide opening service doors for good access to the drive belts and hydraulics. With fewer chains Shane is pleased to report that he doesn’t get so dirty when making adjustments. Summing up the driver’s view Shane said that the Rockstar scored high on speed, simplicity and convenience…and of course good seedbeds.

At the end of their first season Alby Farms Company purchased two Rockstars. Audition successful! These two have allowed them to maintain the same planting acreage as they did with three de-stoners.

The company grows a mixture of Russett Burbank, Piper, Challenger and Zorba chipping varieties and Lady Clare for crisp production.
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