a self propelled swede harvester

Swede Crop Harvesting: From Traditional Methods to Modern Machinery

Swede crops, known for their versatility and nutritional value, are a staple in agriculture across various regions. Harvesting swedes efficiently is crucial for maintaining crop quality and maximizing yields. In this article, we explore the different methods of swede crop harvesting, ranging from traditional manual techniques to modern mechanical solutions.

Manual Harvesting Techniques

Traditionally, swedes have been harvested by hand using simple tools like knives ( in Northern Ireland we call them snedders – “I’m going to sned some turnips”). This manual method involves carefully trimming the tops and bottoms of swedes to prepare them for storage or market. While manual harvesting is labour-intensive and time-consuming, it allows for precise handling of individual crops, ensuring minimal damage and preserving quality.

Hand pulled and trimmed swedes. Note the snedder knife.
One row of swedes I hand pulled and trimmed. Note the snedder knife.

On small swede enterprises, manual harvesting for the retail market is more common, as modern low-damage harvesters are very expensive.

Mechanical Harvesting Methods

Mechanical harvesting has revolutionized swede crop harvesting, offering increased efficiency and productivity compared to manual methods. Several mechanical harvesting options are available, each tailored to specific farm requirements and operational needs.

Old Single-Row Turnip Harvesters

One common mechanical harvester is the old single-row turnip harvester, exemplified by machines like the Boswell, manufactured in Scotland during the 1960s. These harvesters, typically attached to small tractors, feature a disc on the bottom that cuts the roots from the soil while topping the swedes. While effective, these machines may cause some damage to the swedes and are often used for lifting crops destined for stockfeed.

Our single row swede harvester made by Elbar – similar to the Boswell design.

Specialised Single-Row Harvesters

Alternatively, specialised single-row harvesters, such as those manufactured by Asa Lift, offer a gentler approach to swede harvesting. Designed for modern tractors, these machines lift the full swede without cutting the bottoms, ensuring minimal damage and preserving quality. They are particularly suited for harvesting swedes intended for supermarket sales, where appearance and quality are paramount.

An Asa Lift single-row harvester.

Full Bed Trailed Harvesters

Another mechanical option is the large trailed harvester, resembling two-row potato harvesters, equipped with a single full-width share for lifting entire beds of 4 rows of swedes.

full width trailed harvester

These harvesters, often equipped with a front-mounted topper for removing tops before lifting, are designed to handle swedes without cutting their bottoms. They are commonly used in larger-scale operations and by growers who prioritize efficiency and productivity.

Large Self-Propelled Harvesters

For massive area growers like Stewarts of Tayside, large self-propelled harvesters offer unmatched efficiency. Capable of lifting multiple beds or 8 rows of swedes at a time, these high-capacity machines streamline the harvesting process, reducing labour requirements and operational costs.

Dewulf 2 bed harvester lifting 8 rows of swedes
Stewarts of Tayside Dewulf self-propelled harvester lifting two beds.

Benefits and Challenges

Mechanical harvesting methods offer several benefits, including increased efficiency, reduced labour costs, and improved productivity. By automating the harvesting process, farmers can streamline operations and optimize yield potential. However, mechanical harvesting also presents challenges, such as initial investment costs, maintenance requirements, and potential damage to crops if not operated correctly.

Innovations and Future Trends

Recent innovations in mechanical harvesting technology continue to improve efficiency, sustainability, and crop quality. Manufacturers are developing advanced harvesting equipment equipped with features like GPS guidance systems, automated controls, and gentle handling mechanisms to enhance performance and reduce environmental impact. Future trends in swede crop harvesting may focus on further automation, precision farming techniques, and sustainable practices to meet the evolving needs of modern agriculture.

Final Thoughts..

Swede crop harvesting methods have evolved significantly, from traditional manual techniques to modern mechanical solutions. While manual harvesting remains an option for smaller-scale operations, mechanical harvesters offer efficiency, productivity, and quality advantages for larger farms and commercial growers. By understanding the different harvesting methods available and considering factors such as cost, efficiency, and crop quality, farmers can choose the most suitable approach for their specific needs and maximize the potential of their swede crops.