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Customized Deere Machines Work to Extract Sea Salt

Thu April 19, 2007 - West Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Using nature’s power — the sun and wind — Cargill Salt in Redwood City, Calif., crystallizes natural sea salt from San Francisco Bay and uses it to produce products used in food, industry and agriculture. While producing Epsom salts and sodium chloride from sea salt bitterns is simple, pulling these bitterns up from several feet of standing water requires some thinking — and an odd-looking piece of John Deere construction equipment.

Cargill needed a long-reach excavator that could work in shallow water and dig deep enough to remove concentrated chlorides and sulfates from clay salt-pool floors. The solution: a John Deere 330C LC excavator riding high upon a pair of 50-ft.-long (15.2 m) tracked pontoons.

“It’s a bit unwieldy at first, but thanks to the easy and comfortable controls on the machine, you get used to it in a hurry,” Brian Groff, maintenance supervisor of Cargill, said. “Without this custom Deere, we’d probably have to dredge, which is a very expensive proposition. John Deere recognizes the problems facing an operation like ours that works with corrosive agents like salt.”

Another good example of a customized solution is Cargill’s Deere 772CH-II motorgrader, according to Groff.

“We use this grader at another Cargill facility, and the customization package —sealed alternator, custom wiring harness and other electrical protections — keeps corrosion and electrical problems from causing downtime,” he said. “It’s worked with salt all day for a little over a year, and it has 3,500 hours on it already. It’s a reliable machine.”

The salt recovery is efficient for both the environment and Cargill’s bottom line. The amphibious 330C LC scoops up liquid brine and bittern solids from the floors of the salt ponds and dumps them into a hopper. From the hopper, the raw materials are sucked up by a powerful concrete pump, which distributes them to another machine that processes the materials into Cargill products that eventually become road deicer, Epsom salts and table salt.

“John Deere has brought a lot to Cargill and our operation, both in products and customer solutions,” Groff said. “It’s just a great fit for us.”

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