Review: Reiter Merger Respiro R9 Profi

By: Jaiden Drought, Photography by: Jaiden Drought and Justin Bennett


The Reiter Respiro R9 Profi Merger is one of the most impressive machines we’ve tested and is helping harvest top quality forage for Fiber Fresh

Kicking off 2021 with a job that allowed me to check out the most impressive piece of machinery I’ve ever tested, along with the most rigid silage quality controls I’ve seen, made for a formidable start to the year. My trip was to the beautiful central plateau of Reporoa, which is home to Fiber Fresh headquarters, where I discovered there’s more to producing a top-quality New Zealand product than meets the eye.  

The machine I was sent to see is the only one-of-its-kind in New Zealand – a Reiter Merger from Austrian company Reiter Innovative Technology. However, much to my surprise, the crop the machine was working with and the farming systems by Fiber Fresh were just as impressive. So much so that I need to dedicate some discussion to them.

First, the quality control

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Non-obstructive crop flow onto the belt

Fiber Fresh was established in 1984 with the vision of providing quality stock feed for livestock owners. The business has grown substantially since then, and with a strong market share in both ruminant and equine product, now harvests close to 2000 hectares to create a quality New Zealand-grown crop and animal feed product.  

I love the fact that Fiber Fresh follows the holy grail of silage making to the absolute limit. Often (and this is not a criticism), contractors are in the balance of getting the job done as quickly as possible to move to the next farm, all while working around the weather. This works approximately 80% of the time, but occasionally, it goes in too wet or too dry, or ends up rained on; people accept this and move on.

However, this ‘near enough is good enough’ approach to silage making simple doesn’t cut it at Fiber Fresh.

This is not a one-hit harvest. This is a carefully calculated mix of Tabu, oats, Timothy, and the vast majority being lucerne – the high-quality, protein-rich feed that’s the base for the Fiber Fresh animal feed product line.

The thing with lucerne is that while it’s a high-quality forage, which grows excessively and is rich in protein, the leaf (which stores the protein) gets brittle if wilted too much or bashed around by machinery during the harvesting process.

This is where it gets complex, with 2000 hectares to manage and with lucerne set to be harvested every 34 days, comprising a six-day back-to-back harvest period. The product needs to be harvested at the ideal moisture level (43–47% DM), chopped to a perfect chop length (36 drum chopping cylinders, with knives sharpened every load – yes, every load), all while balancing, not flooding, the processing plant but keeping a constant stream of truck and trailers over the sometimes 60km (each way) cart.

On top of this comes the unpredictable nature of the weather. Also, the crop can’t be stored excessively, it can’t be allowed to dry too fast or not fast enough, and then there are the issues of harvesting on ex-forestry land, where sticks, stones, pumice soils, and pretty much every other harvesting challenge you can think of presents itself. So, growing, harvesting, managing, and processing this crop is a serious business requiring a massively specific management programme.

The machine

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The Reiter merger is the only machine of its kind in New Zealand

Forage quality is the absolute priority for Fiber Fresh. Ask any horse owner if they or their horses are fussy or not? I will admit (much to my wife and father’s dismay) that I am not the world’s biggest equine lover. Call me a sceptic but I’m yet to meet one that isn’t fussy. With products also created to feed four-day-old calves, quality and palatability are key.

I remember sitting in a lecture hall at the Pottinger factory in Austria and listening to detailed talks about ash content in forage. Until you see the stats on the negative impact of soil (or any foreign material) and how the bacteria associated negatively impacts the forage quality, you would simply dismiss this as a myth or low importance.

This leads me to a completely unintentional segue into introducing the Reiter Merger. The brainchild of Thomas Reiter, who worked for Pottinger for 20 years, development of this machine started in 2007 before he parted ways with Pottinger, and the Reiter Merger brand is now fully operational worldwide.

Why Reiter?

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Four rear wheels make contour following a game changer

With so many machines to choose from, the decision to invest in a machine such as the Reiter Merger was relatively straightforward once the initial study into performance and innovation was done. Quite simply, this machine is elite. Fiber Fresh has tried several different rotary rakes, and for the precision quality they demand for their brand, these just don’t cut it. They bring too much soil, sticks, and foreign objects into the swath, and when you’re bagging products and selling them both here and internationally, this does not sit well with the end user.

So, mergers seemed the way forward, but, like many things in life – one of these things is not like the other – the Fiber Fresh farm is now onto its second brand of merger. Enter the Reiter R9 Profi.

Founder Thomas Reiter saw the need for the merger concept and designed it with the capability of doing 50,000 hectares in its working lifetime. This is a huge amount of work – nearly 125,000 acres – which you’d think could seem unattainable given the complexity of the machine. Fundamentally, however, thanks to clever thinking and the low number of moving parts, any scepticism can be parked at the door. Also, when talking large-scale, to put this kind of workload into perspective, that’s only 25 cuts for Fiber Fresh.

Pickup

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Rear-facing pickup tines significantly reduce debris

Let’s start with the business end of the machine. This is where the innovation is at its best, with the flexible, camless pick-up. Made up of plastic components, the way it works and how it follows (glides along) the ground and spits out foreign objects ensures quality results. Add in the forward speeds of up to 30km/hr to combined efficiency with quality handling of materials and the results are truly impressive.

Features

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Their Reiter side merging in action

Centre drive: This halves the torque. Each side features one double bearing while a large central shaft spins with no cam track or bearings to wear out.

Small diameter: Small distance between the central shaft and the tine tip, which makes it powerful even when running low pickup speed.

Trailing pick up tine design: Pickup tines are curved backwards so they pick up the forage but leave all the heavier soil, rocks, and sticks behind. This also mean you have significantly fewer tines break if they hit an object; they flex away from the object rather than getting bulldozed through it.

Large ground-hugging discs: Sliding disc close (20cm) to the tine. Pickup is in three sections; discs turn in soft or stony conditions, they move and swivel out of the way around the hard ground or stones rather than bulldozing. Large surface area and freely spin to significantly reduce wear.

Anti-loss system: The tine coil is supported from the inside, which means tines that are broken in the coil are not lost. The tines clip into a half-moon shaped plastic holder in groups of three double tines, another set of three are then clipped into another plastic holder and onto the shaft. One M8 screw secures six double tines make them quick and easy to change

Almost maintenance-free: Heavy-duty plastic bands and hydraulic drive means the only thing wearing is the tine. Fiber Fresh has replaced roughly six tines per 1000 hectares. 130–200rpm (actual pickup tine speed). This is all adjustable from inside the tractor cab.

Rotor and belt

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The top rotor smoothes the swathe onto the feed belt

Looking at the flow of forage onto the belt, there’s an amazingly easy non-obstructive crop flow, mainly due to the unique top rotor. The key driver here is to enable uniform material flow – again featuring plastic rotor tines, with two half-moon sections fitting together around a central shaft. Because only the tip of the plastic rotor sticks out from the bands, the plastic keeps the weight down and the strength up for extremely favourable results.

The process starts with the crop in the mower swath: the crop roller presses it against the trailing tine pickup and the rotor then smooths the crop flow onto the metre-wide variable speed belt (300–600rpm). The operator then decides whether they want a 9, 15, 21, 27, or 33m swath, all equally impressive to watch.

A key feature of the Reiter Merger is the fact each side is independent of the other. The ability to lift the whole side, just the rotor, the belt or the side shift can all be controlled individually from in the cab.

The four wheels at the back are a game changer, as this distributes the weight evenly across the machine. If you have just two transport wheels and lift one side up (which alone is two tonnes), you mess with the balance of the other side and make the whole thing a lot more unstable.

Frame facts

The four silver saucers on the bottom of the belt allow flexible pickup and impressive contour following

Although this is a heavy machine, to put it into perspective, it’s only the same weight as a four-rotor rake but with more output and a significantly more manoeuvrable and versatile machine. The weight distribution is also better, as you get two tonnes on the tractor and one tonne on each of the four wheels when in working mode, making it great in boggy conditions with large yellow springs controlling the ground pressure.

The main beam itself holds 180 litres of hydraulic oil, with two PFC pumps driven off the tractor PTO and drive the pickup, rotor, and belts. This means no overheating issues. While oil cooler helps this, more importantly, none of the intensive oil demand is coming from the tractor, meaning there’s no risk of transmission overheating. Two remotes are needed for the individual side lift while all other axillary functions are through load-sensing with control from the in-cab monitor.

Advantages over a rotary rake

  • The merger gently handles grass not ‘sweeping’ everything into the swath
  • Much higher working speeds can be achieved
  • Less leaf loss
  • Less damage to subsequent machines, as no tine arms, sticks, stones in the swath
  • Suited for undulating/ difficult operating conditions i.e. ex-forestry ground
  • Less power demand, although, it’s still heavy and needs a decent-sized tractor on hills
  • Less wear, as only the tines are wearing, and a lot of plastic components meaning overall lower running costs
  • Apart from replaceable tines and plastic rotor sections, the only moving parts on the machine are four oversized bearings on the belt (each side of the drive rollers) and four bearings on the pickup (again over-engineered). No camtrack equals no cam track bearings. You beauty.

Summary

Hands down, this is the single most impressive machine I’ve tested. This is not because it’s the biggest or most complex, but because you can see the team behind the Reiter Merger has spent many hours and careful design and thought making this machine a true game changer. Mission accomplished.

Although it’s eye-wateringly expensive, so is most complex and quality machinery these days. But with such output and performance, return on investment is well justified. With low running costs, the fact it’s designed to do 50,000 hectares (I can’t see why it won’t), the sums around total cost of ownership make sense.

For the team at Fiber Fresh, investing in this machine, the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, was all about producing quality forage. They know that if they produce quality forage for the world market, paying for the gear to make it, in turn, pays for itself.

Reiter Merger Respiro R9 Profi specifications

Working width 2 x 3.5m belts
Transport width <3m
Swath width options 9, 15, 21, 27, or 33m
Hydraulic requirements  Power beyond plus two D/A spools
Min power Recommended 130hp but due to weight on hills will be substantially more
Pickup Flexible, camless
Chassis Four-wheel chassis for low soil compaction
Drive  Fully hydraulic drive with on-board hydraulics
Belt drive Left, right, variable speed
Belt width 1000mm
Weight  Approx. 6400kg

Pluses

  • Output – fast working speeds
  • Trailing tine technology
  • Very few moving parts
  • Can make a 9, 15, 21, 27, or 33m swath
  • A lot of pickup and rotor components are made of strong plastic keeping weight down, strength up, and replacement cost low
  • Ground hugging swivelling discs and three section pickup makes it unreal for contour following
  • Crop roller and rotor give smooth crop flow to the belt
  • Four wheels spread the weight well, keep the machine balanced on hills, and with the ability to individually lift each side, doesn’t disrupt the balance of the other side when one is lifted.

Minuses

  • Weight – although no heavier than a four-rotor rake
  • Initial cost – low running cost with few moving parts

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