Looking to improve timeliness and boost productivity with spraying, one Bedfordshire company has created a bowser using a 5,000-litre spray pack taken from a self-propelled sprayer.
With a cropped area which extends to almost 2,400 hectares around its base at Milton Ernest, Bedfordia Farms knows how to make the most of its machinery resources as it seeks to farm more efficiently.
Such scale however, often calls into question the challenge of running one machine to full capacity or opting for two similar machines to split the workload.
Trainee assistant farm manager Harry Pitcher says: “We farm land in two large blocks which we refer to as north and south. And from north to south, land extends over an eight-mile area.”
Cropping is predominantly a wheat/rape rotation, with a proportion of spring wheat included. It is an approach which affords block cropping according to geographical location, which simplifies management when it comes to machinery and equipment moves, lessening their impact on the local community.
In addition, the farm has recently added a further 275ha of land located six miles away.
“With the additional workload for the 2014 season, there was a need to review sprayer performance and consider ways to boost efficiency,” he says.
“Our choices came down to adding a second sprayer or moving to a bowser which could premix and save downtime when it came to refilling the sprayer.”
When it comes to spraying and liquid fertiliser applications, those tasks are carried out using one self-propelled sprayer - a Bateman RB55 equipped with a 5,000-litre tank and a 40-metre boom.
As a result, the RB55 is clocking up about 1,200 hours each season.
With most chemical applications at 100 litres/ha, the sprayer can see off a 50ha block with one tankful, often in less than 90 minutes. But with complex tank mixes, refilling times could easily take from 25-45 minutes.
While the farm was already using a 16,000-litre tanker for water, there was further efficiency to gain by having a means of pre-mixing the next load to improve sprayer logistics.
Doing so would require the sprayer only to stop working long enough to refill its 5,000-litre spray tank.
“It seemed more sensible to stay with just one sprayer and keep with our existing two-man team format,” he says. “This meant all effort could be focused on getting the most from the RB55.”
The farming team, led by manager Ian Rudge, came up with the concept of a high-speed bowser system which could be used behind one of Bedfordia’s Fastracs. This would give the farm a road-legal 40mph high-speed capability to make the most of the local road network.
But importantly, it meant allconcentrated pesticides could be kept safely stored at the farm’s purpose-built spray store.
“The logic was simple - buy an RB55 spray pack complete with stainless steel tank, pump, induction hopper and controls, but without a boom, and mount it to one of our old high-speed trailers,” he says.
“This would give an exact match in load and also familiarity for the two-man team with control systems,” he says. The controls on the bowser are identical to those of the sprayer.
A spray pack was ordered, and along with Bedfordia’s twin-axle donor trailer, was sent to local firm Merrick Loggin Trailers in Brackley, Northants, for the conversion work and necessary fabrications to take place.
“Merrick stripped the trailer back to a bare chassis, refurbished the brakes, suspension and axles, fitted new LED road lighting and then mounted the spray pack,” he says. “We wanted the induction hopper on the nearside rear, and on a slide-out frame, so it was easily accessible for filling, when back at our spray store.”
Up front, the trailer has storage tubes which safely contain the transfer pipes and integral storage cabinets. These afford adequate space for PPE, spill kit and eye wash equipment for example. A separate clean water supply for hand-washing is also located on-board.
And a new floor for the trailer with integral mudguards has enabled a flat load deck load area on the front part of the chassis, where a 1,000-litre IBC can be carried when applying trace elements.
“By carrying IBC’s we can simply pipe trace elements straight to the bowser’s induction hopper,” he adds.
The Fastrac’s compressed air supply is used to operate the Bateman induction hopper, while a spool valve provides flow for the bowser’s 400-litres/minute hydraulically-driven pump, avoiding the need for a pto drive.
The entire outfit was then painted to match the RB55’s paint scheme, with the final cost coming in at about £25,000.
“It is probably the simplest and most cost-effective way to increase sprayer efficiency, particularly when compared to buying a second self-propelled sprayer,” he says.
At the start of each spray day, operator Darren Bird loads the RB55 at Bedfordia’s spray store and fill point. As soon as he heads out to the field, bowser operator Steve Morris reverses the bowser into the spray store and prepares the next tankful.
This gives him time to wash and triple rinse chemical containers and dispose of packaging in the confines of the bunded spray store, before heading back out to the field to link up with the sprayer.
With controls conveniently located at the rear of the bowser, adjacent to the induction hopper, and a set of tank washing controls in the cab of the Fastrac, Mr Morris thinks the bowser is as user-friendly and as practical as he had hoped for.
With inlet and outlet connections at the rear of the bowser chassis, the sprayer and bowser hook up on a headland tramline. But unlike most bowser systems, these two units connect using a dual pipe transfer system.
Mr Morris says: “The sprayer connects and draws liquid from the bowser using its own 400-litre pump, while the bowser also connects independently using a second pipe, and simultaneously pumps using its 400-litre pump.
“We can transfer a 5,000-litre load in about eight minutes,” he says. “It’s just enough time for Darren to fill out his records.”
With rapid transfer of liquid rewarding the team with dramatically reduced downtime, sprayer productivity is maximised and the empty bowser returns to the yard to prepare its next tankful.
Experience has shown running two pumps simultaneously does not quite produce twice the output, though it does represent an impressive saving in transfer time which rewards with greater timeliness of applications.
Mr Pitcher says: “There are some mixes which do need to be transferred over to the sprayer with a bit less speed, just to avoid excessive foaming in the tank. But overall, we’ve created a useful 25% boost in sprayer output.”
Over the course of a day that saving translates into at least one extra tankful, giving the farm the potential to spray up to 500ha/day.
“There is no doubt our new bowser has a key role to play in keeping the sprayer working to its full potential,” he says. “And we probably would have struggled to accommodate the extra workload without making such an important change to spraying logistics.
“We do the best we can, as simply and efficiently as we can.”