With digestate work having become big business for contractors, Alex Heath went to see one company which has been running a new machine for 2018.
With the rise of anaerobic digesters and intensive livestock enterprises, slurry management and application has become an important and increasingly sophisticated operation, with A. and R. Cramphorn specialising in handling the liquid side of the industry since the late 1980s.
Based in Rutland, the company applies product to more than 7,500 hectares from Bedford to Boston and up into North Wales. To handle this large workload, the firm took delivery of the first Vredo VT7028-2 in the UK, complete with a 21cu. metre tank.
Arriving in January, the self-propelled machine has already amassed 1,400 hours. We caught up with its driver, Craig Barnes while spreading digestate for an anaerobic digestion (AD) unit on grassland of a local farm.
Having run self-propelled machines for a number of years, the team is well versed in the benefits of running such a system.
Mr Barnes, who has been working for the company for the past 13 years, says the units are purpose-built for the task, so there is no unnecessary weight present, as may be found on tractor-drawn set ups. He also believes a self-propelled unit is much kinder on the ground.
“The Vredo carries its own weight and everything on the machine has a purpose,” he says.
“It does not matter whether the machine is empty or full, unlike a tractor-drawn tanker which is a dead weight being pulled around.”
The Vredo joins the company’s brace of existing Challenger Terragator systems. The new Vredo features a 16-litre Deutz V8 producing 687hp, connected to Vredo’s own continuously variable transmission capable of 50kph.
Sitting on 900mm R42 tyres, the company went for these as they fit in the profile of the machine and will go up most tramlines without an issue, says Mr Barnes.
“Most sprayers on the farms we operate on are fitted with wide tyres year-round. We can also get in between standing maize crops, giving them a boost of digestate while growing.”
He explains Vredo grinds the edges off the tyres, making them kinder on crops. A central tyre inflation system also allows the footprint of the tyre to be increased when pulling into fields, reducing compaction, which he says is becoming increasingly important.
This allows the machine to ‘float’ over the surface, leaving little mess. Mr Barnes explains the decision to go for the Vredo was down to the need for extra power.
He says: “When we started out the strength of the digestate was not that high, so we were putting a lot on per hectare.
“Recently a lot of AD plants are using food waste, so the strength has increased, so much so that we may be putting on as little as 18cu.m/ha.
"Pulling a six-metre cultivator took too long to apply the product, but we were limited going any wider due to the power of the Terragators. With the Vredo, we can pull an 8m Amazone Catros disc harrow at 14kph. We are now covering nearly 50ha per day compared to 36ha per day with the Terragators.”
The slurry applicators are kept supplied by a fleet of JCB Fastrac tractors and Conor Engineering 18,000-litre tri-axle tankers fitted with unloading docking pipes, ferrying product from farm to field.
The Vredo takes just 60 seconds to take on board a tanker of slurry and 80 seconds with the thicker digestate.
To achieve these replenishment rates, a Vogelsang 12,000 litre per minute positive displacement pump is used. Coupled to the 250mm (10-inch) filling arm is a hydraulically-driven turbo pump, also sucking 12,000 litres per minute.
A maceration unit at the front helps prevent blocking pipes.
The filling arm is controlled by a joystick in the cab and can reach 6.7m, ideal for getting over hedges and ditches. Mr Barnes says the placement of the filling arm is better to use than the Terragator’s, which is mounted on the side of the machine.
The hitch on the rear is steerable, which counteracts the drive angle produced by the crab steering. A. and R. Cramphorn often runs the machine in crab format when working down ground, spreading the considerable weight.
Among the various implements the machine can pull is a new set of 24m Bomech trailing shoe booms.
These can work on various tramline widths, through the folding of the outer sections. The company is now applying upwards of 1,200cu.m/day compared to 900cu.m/day with the 18m booms on the Terragator.
Due to the lack of a suitable CVT available, Vredo designed and built its own, it says. Mr Barnes says the CVT is easy to set up and use and will alert him if the load on the transmission is too high. The company felt going for a CVT was the correct option if pulling a cultivator all day, offering more flexibility.
The machine will select the optimum engine speed and the pumping units adjust automatically to any changes in speed.
Keeping everything straight and precise is a Trimble guidance system.
Although RTK is installed on the machine, Mr Barnes says the satellite-guided Centrepoint RTX is used instead, as there is no need for a base station.
“Due to the distances we cover, it soon became apparent RTK would not be suitable on all the farms we visit, so we now generally just use the satellite system. If a farm has an RTK base station we can tap into it, but most of the time the satellite system is spot on, even on CTF farms.”
The company can also put product on at variable rate, if the correct maps are supplied.
Having run the Vredo for 10 months, Mr Barnes is happy with its performance.
He says: “We had several other makes on demo, but this machine seemed miles ahead in terms of comfort, power and ease of driving.”
The Claas cab is a good place to spend the day according to Mr Barnes, who says it is quiet, comfortable, light and airy. The company fitted some tinting to the side windows to reduce glare and his only wish would be some extra glare reduction on the multiple screens in the cab.
So far, few problems have occurred and these have been limited to the odd hydraulic pipe wriggling free as the machine was bedding in. Mr Barnes admits the four-wheel steer took a bit of getting used to, moving from the articulated Terragators, but now prefers the manoeuvrability of the Vredo.
He says the Vredo uses the same amount of fuel as the Terragator when dragging a cultivator behind, typically 450-480 litres per day, but crucially the cultivator is wider and doing more work in the day.