After Big Iron — Take A 16-hour Road Trip For Michigan’s Self-propelled Beet Demo

Red River Valley farmers got a look at a Ropa self-propelled sugar beet harvester at the International Sugarbeet Institute at the Fargodome in March 2013. Now they have a chance to see one operate alongside three competitors in the state of Michigan on Sept. 18.


Curious about self-propelled beet harvesters? Here’s your chance to see them.

Big Iron XXXIII was the hot ticket this week for the region’s agricultural equipment aficionados, but some beet  farmers at the event were thinking about another event in Michigan they’re heading to next week.

It’s billed as the first field demonstration of self-propelled sugar beet harvesters in the United States. It’ll take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 18 on Townline Road near Sandusky, Mich. The location is on the west side of town, and a half-mile to the south.

Steve Poindexter, senior Extension Service sugar beet educator with Michigan State University, tells Agweek that several people from the Red River Valley are coming to the event, which he expects may draw some 500 people from across the country. (He says Don Lilleboe of Sugar Publications, Fargo, owned by Forum Communications, as is Agweek, is going. Don is also an organizer of the annual institute.)

Poindexter says there will be a Ropa, Holmer, Grimme and Verveat machines in the field at the demonstration. He says AgriFac, another manufacturer, will have a  display but won’t demonstrate a machine.

  • Only place in the U.S.

Poindexter says the Michigan area may be the only place in the United States where all four of the manufacturers have equipment on the ground. Self-propelled units have been in the Michigan and Ontario, Canada, areas that both deliver beets to Michigan Sugar Co.  He says the first ones came into the area about six years ago and now there are 40 or more of them in the region.

“With these machines you no longer need a person, pulling a topper (beet defoliator)” Poindexter says.

Farmers often go together to purchase a machine. The harvesters pile beets on the headlands, where other machines pick them up a day or two later. Trucks don’t go into the fields, avoiding compaction, Poindexter says. Among other things, this allows a drying and a cleaning of the beets as they’re put into the trucks. In Michigan, the piling stations don’t always run 24 hours a day during the harvest.

  • Four brands in area

“Last year Holmer came into the market,” Poindexter says. “This year we have a couple of growers who have purchased the Grimme and Vervaet.” The Ropa machines were displayed at the annual International Sugar Beet Institute in Fargo last March and were used on some Red River Valley farms in 2012.

Registration runs 8 to 9 a.m. the event is free and open to the public. Lunch is served at the demonstration site. Sandusky is about a 16-hour drive from Fargo. Poindexter says the local airports to fly into would be at Flint or Detroit. (That’s right, it doesn’t have to be a 16-hour road trip.)

For information, contact Poindexter at (989) 798-5848 or For information go to http://

Elias Hultgren, age 5, son of farmer Nate Hultgren of Raymond, Minn., plays with a toy model of a Ropa brand self-propelled sugar beet harvesting machine, while his father checks out the features of the real thing. The scale model costs about $160 and come free with a $710,000 harvester. Photo taken at the International Sugarbeet Institute, at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D., on March 13, 2013.