Finnish farmers build better rock trap

Thirty farmers and factory workers designed a picker for their own farms and are now selling it to the world

LANGHAM, Sask. — For farmers in many areas, the rock picker has become an essential implement, especially when they seed low-growing crops requiring the combine to get down dangerously close to Mother Earth.

“Clearing a field of stones is a never-ending proposition. You pick them with your rock picker and dump them in a pile, and come next spring their cousins have popped up to surprise you. It wears you out mentally and it wears the machine out physically.” That’s the opinion of one farmer in Manitoba’s Interlake region.

It’s not only a Canadian Prairies problem. It encompasses the globe.

Now, a group of 30 Finnish farmers is offering something different. All 30 were employed at the Elho factory, a leading Finnish ag equipment manufacturer, but they were not happy with the rock pickers leaving the factory door, so they tried to design a better one, says Elho sales representative Marv Gingrich, who was at the Ag in Motion outdoor farm show near Saskatoon July 16-18 to show off the new Finnish farmer-designed Elho Scorpio 550.

“They designed it as a group and used the prototypes on their own farms as it evolved,” says Gingrich.

The oldest Scorpio in North America is three years old, and they’ve only been coming into Canada for one year. There are a couple dozen Scorpios in Ontario, plus a handful in Manitoba. Gingrich says they will soon be available across the three prairie provinces.

the grate to shake off dirt and mud. Although the company only claims the machine can handle 16 inch stones, Gingrich says he has collected stones much larger. | Ron Lyseng photo

“It has a hydraulic system, which protects the machine. There are no shafts, no belts, no p.t.o. drive lines. Everything is protected by hydraulic pressure relief valves. If there’s a jam in the main rotor, the motors driving those main gearboxes will divert oil into relief and oil will flow into the lift system and actually pick the machine up. Then you reverse the rotor and spit that jam back out again so you don’t even have to get out of the tractor to release the jam.

“It’s a big safety factor because you’re not climbing up and down from the cab, but mainly it’s safer because you’re not trying to pry out a rock that’s under pressure. That can be deadly. And it’s the only machine I know of that has automatic hydraulic depth control. We typically work it a little deeper than two inches.”

Working width is 18 feet. In transport mode, the picker is less than three metres wide, which meets European criteria. Gingrich says that officially, the Scorpio picks rocks up to 16 inches in diameter, but in he says in practice he has picked rocks much bigger. Rather than use an elevator to bring rocks up into the box, the Scorpio main rotor tines have enough force to throw rocks to the back of the box. The tines and concave bars are rubber mounted to cushion the shock and give the machine a longer lifespan.

In working mode, the Scorpio folds out to a width of 18 feet. The arms roll the rocks toward the feeder house in the center. Tines in the feeder hour have enough power to throw the rocks to the back of the hopper. | Ron Lyseng photo

“The Scorpio we have at the show will require a bigger tractor, not because of the power it takes, but because of the weight and also because of the oil requirements. We’re doing all this work with hydraulics, so you need a tractor with big hydraulic capacity. You can get by with 120 horsepower, but I’m more comfortable with 140 or 150.

“Another thing guys really appreciate is that for dumping, the box lifts high enough that you can unload into a dump truck or rock trailer.”

Once you’ve gone to all the trouble of picking those rocks, your next move is to get rid of them. The Scorpio 550 hopper lifts high enough to unload into a dump truck or rock trailer. | Ron Lyseng photo

Gingrich says a farmer should look at the rock picker like he looks at a combine. There should always be enough trucks, trailers and carts in line so the main harvest machine (rock picker or combine) doesn’t have to sit idle. He points out that selling rocks to the crusher can be a profitable enterprise.

“If you just dump it by the side of the fencerow, you know that’s where it’s likely to stay. But once it’s in the truck, you can do with it whatever you want.”

The Elho Scorpio 550 is listed at $109,000.

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