MAN Truck & Bus

Der MAN TGS Agrar-Truck auf dem Zuckerrübenfeld Anton Wenhart und Christian Faltlhauser vor dem MAN TGS Agrar-Truck

From beet to sugar

07/02/2020

The sugar beet season in Germany begins in September. A state of emergency prevails until January, especially in the leading growing region in Bavaria. Drivers like Christian Faltlhauser transport the harvest to the factories 24 hours a day. The MAN TGS agricultural truck is proving to be an enduring powerhouse. A report on the sweet side of agriculture.

Das Gelände der Südzuckerfabrik mit Schornsteinen im Hintergrund
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Südzucker in Rain am Lech All farmers growing sugar beet between Erding, Ulm and Regensburg deliver to this factory.  

Chimneys on the horizon spit white clouds into the bright blue sky. "That's where we're heading," says Christian Faltlhauser, smiling whilst driving a fully loaded truck. The 51-year-old is himself a farmer and is transporting sugar beet for a conglomerate of farmers. From September to mid-January, that's how long the sugar beet campaign lasts, he drives back and forth between the farmers' fields and the Südzucker factories. He uses a MAN TGS agricultural truck to effortlessly move the tons of heavy crop from the fields to the sugar factory 120 kilometres away. Today it is the turn of the last load from Erding.

Südzucker AG operates almost thirty sugar factories and is the largest sugar producer in Europe. One of them is at Rain am Lech. All farmers growing sugar beet between Erding, Ulm and Regensburg deliver to this factory. More than 70 trucks rotate between fields and the plant during the campaign – 24 hours a day, six days a week. Up to 750 loads of sugar beet arrive at the factory in Rain am Lech every day. The popular sweetener is produced from the beet within twelve hours. But the white crystals' journey begins much earlier.

RELIABLE POWERHOUSE

Faltlhauser welcomes his colleagues Anton Wenhart and Franz Eder on farmer Anton Reich's field as the Bavarian duchy town of Erding is still sleeping. The first rays of sun flash on the horizon. The air is clear. The sweet tubers have been lying here in a so-called clamp since November. This special form of storage involves the tubers being placed in heaps on the ground to await loading. Anton Wenhart is responsible for this. Since 1992, he has been controlling the loading mouse, which is what farmers affectionately call the machine used to clean sugar beet and transport it into the back of the truck. Faltlhauser parks the MAN TGS parallel to it, Franz Eder is directly behind with the next MAN agricultural truck. Loud chatter interrupts the silence of the morning.

Centimetre by centimetre the loading mouse slides under the piles of beet. The beets dance up and down on the rotating metal rollers, earth remnants trickle down until the brown roots fall into the back of the truck with a dull thump. "The less soil that lands in the truck, the more harvest the drivers can transport per load," explains Martin Haindl, managing director of Maschinen- und Betriebshilfsring Erding e.V. This machinery conglomerate includes 120 sugar beet growers who joined forces and have been sharing six MAN agricultural trucks and the loading mouse for almost 28 years. "This makes the best use of vehicles and machines and allows farmers to share the cost of the equipment," says Haindl. "We'll drive around 110,000 kilometres with each truck in the five-month campaign," adds Faltlhauser, who as chief driver is responsible for maintenance of two of the six MAN trucks. Some of the vehicles are going through their tenth campaign and still drive reliably despite the high workload. That is why in 2017 the farmers again decided on a MAN TGS, with which Faltlhauser is now ending its third campaign.

The MAN agricultural truck is built to be particularly light to achieve the greatest possible payload – without sleeping quarters and with a smaller tank. Wide tires protect the ground and at the same time enable the load to be manoeuvred safely even on wet farmland. Among other things, its power ensures this: at 450 HP, the TGS is easily able to pull the fully loaded structure behind it. "This enables us to manage our transports with minimum emissions and optimum energy efficiency," explains Haindl. The light aluminium structure also ensures that around two tons more beet per load can be transported.

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KILOGRAMS OF SUGAR BEET

are required to produce one kilogram of granulated sugar. Production takes around twelve hours, from delivery to the finished product.


 

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TONS OF SUGAR BEET

are processed by the Südzucker factory in Rain am Lech every day. That is 500 tons per hour.


 

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TRUCK LOADS OF SUGAR BEET

arrive at the factory daily in peak periods. This involves over 70 trucks rotating between the field and the factory.


 

The chief drivers plan coordination of the vehicles and their pick-ups even before the season starts. More than seventy farmers transport their beet to the sugar factory in three shifts a day. Where paper and pen were used in the past, a digital system makes work easier today. With "farm pilot", which Südzucker AG makes available to all sugar beet drivers, Faltlhauser can view the routes on the tablet in the truck. This system also benefits the farmers: they know when the drivers are loading their crops and can track in real time how much they weigh when unloading at the factory.

UNLOADING CAN BEGIN

The white MAN TGS turns the corner and drives toward the entrance of the Südzucker factory. Christian Faltlhauser has now travelled almost 120 kilometres, passing the airport in Munich and heading toward Donauwörth until reaching Rain am Lech. A sweet, earthy smell hangs in the air. The driver welcomes the gatekeeper, she smiles and waves him through to the first stop in the factory: the scales. The monitor on the scales shows 40,340 kilograms. He confirms the total weight of the loaded truck via the transponder in the cab and drives to the next station. Two employees on a rise a few meters away are already waiting for the next delivery. Stop, wait, and continue driving as soon as the light turns green. In the meantime, the employees take a sample and test the beet's sugar content. This data is also recorded in "farm pilot".

Next station: unloading. But before wet unloading can begin, Faltlhauser jumps out, opens the locking mechanism on a flap in the side wall and gets in again. Now it's time to get started. A pipe swivels over the loaded sugar beets, water sprays out at high pressure and pushes the tubers out of the flap. One after the other they shoot out with a loud rumbling and into a shaft full of water.

HOW THE BEET BECOMES SUGAR

A conveyor belt then transports the freshly washed beet to the huge storage area or directly to the factory. The cutting machine at the factory splits the beet into sticks – similar in size to chips – before they are heated with water in the extraction tower. "The heat causes the cells of the beet to rupture and allow the sugary juice to escape," explains Martin Heidrich, Bavarian raw materials coordinator for Südzucker AG in Rain am Lech. A press shapes the solid part, the flesh of the beet. The dried pulp is later used as cattle fodder. The liquid part continues on its way, is cleaned with lime and thickened with steam until sugar beet syrup is produced from the clear juice.

Ein Förderband transportiert frisch gewaschene Zuckerrüben bei Südzucker
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On piecework A conveyor belt transports the freshly washed beet to the huge storage area or directly to the factory.

„THE HEAT CAUSES THE CELLS OF THE BEET TO RUPTURE AND ALLOW THE SUGARY JUICE TO ESCAPE.“

Martin Heidrich 
Deputy head of department at Südzucker in Rain am Lech

The syrup continues to thicken in the cooking vessel until its crystallisation point is reached," says Heidrich. The concentration of sugar in the syrup is then so high that the crystals form on their own. The entire process occurs without the addition of chemicals. The crystals are only cleaned and dried before the finished sugar can cool down in the silo. The finished sugar subsequently goes directly to beverage manufacturers, dairies and bakeries for further processing or is packed for retail outlets.

As the last beets float in the water shaft, Faltlhauser's work is almost done. Now all that remains is to clean the windscreen and mirrors and move on to the last station. Faltlhauser reconfirms the total weight on the scales. But this time without the beets as baggage: 12,600 kilograms. He transported almost thirty tons to the Südzucker factory in Rain am Lech on this January morning. Faltlhauser drives off back to Erding, leaves the factory behind and sees the clouds rising from the chimney in his side mirror. He will be here again in a few months – for the next campaign – and use the MAN TGS to deliver the basis for the sweet crystals.

Text Tanita Hecking
Photos Marian Lenhard

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