Good machinery set-up makes best use of expensive inputs

Article taken from the FarmBusiness, written by Heather Briggs

The secret to good fertiliser application is to ensure your machinery is correctly set up for the conditions of the product to be applied.

Don’t waste time and money playing with the knobs on your tractor, check and read updates to the manual, says Andy Mennell, combine and sprayer specialist at Ben Burgess Newmarket.

“Don’t be afraid to increase your disc speed if you notice your machine isn’t spreading the fertiliser evenly,” he notes, commenting that two years ago when applying fertiliser he ended up at 60rpm above what was originally the recommended disc speed for his machine.

“You can always turn the speed down when you are spreading round the edge of the field,” he says.  “A lot of critical testing is done by the manufacturers and published on the internet, so always check their websites.

“Costs can rise by up to 20% if you don’t get it right – a significant inroad on profitability, with expensive fertiliser being wasted by over-application or loss of yield if patches are missed.  For example, just worn nozzles will cost you an extra application of 10%.

Farmers need to know the specific gravity of the product when using liquid, Mr Mennell says, adding that getting the correct spread pattern is vital so that there are no stripes where fertiliser has not be applied.

“Don’t forget your machinery needs calibrating every year to optimise performance.  Twin discs need proper maintenance and you need new vanes as well,” he says.

Mr Mennell is an advocate of advance technology but emphasises that paying attention to small details on machinery set-up can make a difference.

“As fertiliser applications often go on when the ground is wet, it’s vital to check tyre pressures on the tractor and machinery; getting the correct pounds per square inch (psi) is important to help prevent soil compaction problems that are difficult and costly to rectify.  Even when it’s dry, traffic can cause damage, so it’s well worthwhile taking the time to ensure that you have the correct weight spread on your vehicles.

“The trick is to make sure that any necessary ballast is correctly distributed as it can mean using an extra litre of diesel per hour, which soon adds up.

“As far as tractor set-up is concerned, ensure rear arms are set up equally, and the top link is in the position as per the manual.

Adjust on the move

He emphasises that operators might well they need to change settings on the move to adjust to disparate field conditions.

“Where you can, monitor what you are doing ensure fertiliser is going on evenly at the recommended rate.  Taking your time at set-up and spending a full half-day will be well rewarded.

“That way, you will see the best result of the fertiliser – with good quality saleable yields.”

Lewis McKerrow, head of precision services at Agrovista says:  “Many spreaders are fitted with weigh cells to control the flow rate of the fertiliser and getting spread pattern checked and calibrated should be carried out on all fertiliser spreaders.

“However weigh cells also need calibrating; a 600kg bag that shows 660kg in the spreader could be 10% out (assuming the bag weight is correct), therefore placing a known weight into the spreader to calibrate is an important process.

“Likewise with liquid systems, checking flow rate against target ensures that the benefits of precision farming techniques aren’t diluted by being inaccurately applied from the machine.”

Meanwhile Agrovista agronomist Chris Martin advises patience about keeping the fertiliser in the shed, as crops are well forward for the season.

“A lot can happen between now and March, but in many cases oilseed rape is bigger now than in was last April,” he says.

“What we need to do is avoid over-large canopies, with problems of lodging and increased disease outlook, so we need to hold back and wait.”

Still referring to oilseed rape, Mr Martin adds that to create an optimum-sized canopy at flowering and maximise seed number, not only should fertiliser be applied later, but growers should also bear in mind that first nitrogen applications might well be lower than last year as there is significantly more nitrogen already in the crop than at this time last year.

“Rates might, however, be increased in later applications to maintain green leaf duration and maximise seed size,” he concludes.


20 January 2014

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