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Cereals Preview: Hunt for higher outputs as sprayer size increases

High capacity sprayers are an increasingly common sight. Jane Carley finds out from manufacturers and operators how the right machine can boost the bottom line.


The drive for higher outputs has seen some monster sprayers launched in Europe in recent years. While larger tanks and wider booms increase the hectares which can be covered, the latest technology and improvements to logistics can also be significant.


Knight Farm Machinery’s Brian Knight comments that, in common with most farm machinery, sprayers are getting bigger and there are fewer of them around than there used to be.


“The most popular tank size for us is about 4,000 litres and our standard build goes up to 6,000-litre capacity. We have requests for machines as large as 10,000 litres and, as a specialist manufacturer, we are always happy to accommodate these non-standard machines,” he says.


“Boom size is also creeping up, but changing the width of tramlines usually means spending money on other machinery and the total bill can be significant. We see an increasing number of customers choosing widths between 30 metres and 36m, with a limited number going for 40m and beyond.”


He acknowledges customers are looking for increased output with these larger machines, but points out there are many factors which can influence output and not all of them are appropriate to every customer.


“For example, if you have a wide range of cropping on your farm, a more efficient method of changing chemicals might make a big difference. Some customers like the idea of a chemical injection system where only water or a base product mix is held in the main tank.


When managed properly, this can dramatically reduce changeover time and virtually eliminate the need to wash out or return to the yard to load up with a new mix.


“Lower application rates are another way to improve output and many customers now operate in the 100-litre/hectare bracket. Not all chemicals can be applied at lower rates and if the customer is using liquid fertiliser he may still prefer a larger tank capacity.”


But while tyre technology continues to advance and greater weights can be carried without too much impact on the tramlines, large machines can limit spraying days, cautions Mr Knight.


“It is important to consider your particular soil conditions when choosing a larger machine. Some customers argue wider booms mean less tramlines, so they are prepared to accept wider tyres and more damage. Others are moving to controlled traffic systems to reduce the problems of compaction.”

Case study: A.M. McEwan, Arbroath

Case study: A.M. McEwan, Arbroath

  • A.M. McEwan use two 5,200-litre Knight Trailblazer sprayers to cover 530ha of cereals and 315ha of potatoes, and increased tank capacity as part of a round of updates when purchasing two new machines in 2013.

Graham McEwan says: “The extra capacity was the next step up for the sprayer, and we also have the option of using 1,000-litre front-mounted tanks. We didn’t look at self-propelled sprayers as we could not justify purchasing two, and one would not be enough.”


Trailed sprayers also make good use of Case Puma 200 and 230 tractors in the summer months – they are occupied with a one-pass drilling system and a potato planter when not spraying.


“We first specified GPS auto shut-off on a previous Knight sprayer, and it is fitted to both machines; the increased accuracy offers cost savings over a period of time,” says Mr McEwan.


Autoboom height control has been specified for the 36m booms, although he says operation of the stable Knight boom is ‘no problem’.


Application rates from 170-300 litres/ha can be used across the range of crops, and the sprayers also apply ammonium sulphate to potatoes.


With machinery run from one base, additional water storage is available at outlying points of the farm, which can be 17-20 miles away, to avoid running back for refills.


Mr McEwan adds having plenty of capacity means larger fields can be sprayed on one tankload rather than having to refill and spray out part of a tank.


“Two sprayers might be considered a bit of a luxury, but it means if we get a couple of good days after some bad weather I can get all the blight sprays on. In addition, if we are working in cereals and potatoes at the same time, by using separate sprayers, the risk of cross contamination is avoided.”

Latest technology

Tecnoma’s John Davis agrees with the largest machines, there may be a limit to what the land will take. “Although contractors are always looking to boost output.”


Where going up a tank size is not an option, some purchasers look to wider booms, but Mr Davis points out there are limitations. “Going from 24-30m will undoubtedly boost your output, but a good operator can go faster and turn more quickly on the headland with a 24m boom than a 36m unit. At 36m, although you are covering more ground you may even find output dips a little.”


The latest technology has proved popular with high acreage operations on the continent, including Varioselect in-cab nozzle switching.


“With twin or quad nozzles fitted to the boom, the operator can swap over in a fraction of the time it would take to switch nozzles manually, especially on wider booms.”


Autofill also allows the operator to do other jobs while the tank is filling, as well as increasing accuracy.


The decision between trailed and self-propelled sprayers depends very much on the farm’s circumstances, he says. “You need at least 800ha to justify a self-propelled machine and you could purchase three high-spec trailed machines for the cost of a self-propelled. Some manufacturers can’t offer the choice, but Tecnoma builds 6,000-litre trailed sprayers with up to 44m booms. Customers can specify all the features of self-propelled bar autosteer, but add an Isobus-controlled tractor and they are just as easy to operate.”

Case study: B.W. Upton and Sons, Shropshire

Case study: B.W. Upton and Sons, Shropshire

  • Shropshire farmers and contractors B.W. Upton and Sons cover about 20,000ha applying chemicals and liquid fertiliser with two Tecnoma sprayers – a trailed 4,500 litre Tecnis and self-propelled 4,200-litre Laser.

The self-propelled machine replaced a 3,000-litre sprayer last year, and Walter Upton says: “We decided we need to increase output as some jobs can be 30 miles away. We’ve always kept a trailed machine even having purchased a self-propelled, as much of the land is wet or undulating and there is the risk of an overturn or getting stuck with a self-propelled sprayer.”


Blight spraying on irrigated land is an example of one job where the trailed sprayer is ideal, he says, where the tractor and sprayer can easily be kitted up with wide tyres.


“The one limitation is the lack of clearance offered by the tractor for later work, but that’s where the self-propelled comes in,” Mr Upton adds.


While the small fields mean he has stuck with 24m booms on the newer machine, he says GPS steering is one development which has made a significant improvement over the years.


Logistics planning also plays a part. “We plan water supply carefully and will take it out to farms, as we will only use clean water,” Mr Upton says. “We also have an 18,000-litre road tanker with lockable chemical container and have added chemical storage to the sprayers to minimise downtime on more distant jobs.”


With clients varying from dairy to arable farms and a vast range of field sizes, Mr Upton says it is hard to be precise about the output boost offered by the larger sprayer, but suggests it is at least 25 per cent.

Output compared

On a large farm in Western Russia, Amazone compared the use of three 3,000 litre UG3000, 24m trailed sprayers with 80hp tractors, working at 10kph spraying speed at 200 litres/ha water volume, with one Pantera 36m self-propelled sprayer at 14kph spraying speed and 150 litres/ha water volume and the 11,200-litre 36m UX11200, with 200hp tractor at 14kph spraying speed and 150 litres/ha water volume.


With a farm size of 6,000ha and an average of 2.5 passes per year, the area to be sprayed per year totalled 15,000ha.


Farm–field distance was 15km and field – field distance 1km with an average field size of 150ha. The daily working period was 12 hours and spraying took place in a time window of 60 days.


Sprayer filling always took place in the field with the aid of a bowser, but the sprayers left the farm in the morning and returned every evening.


The UX11200 covered more than 350ha/day in the trial, almost three times the output of the UG 3000s – acreage output significantly increases at an increasing tank volume and higher application speeds.


Filling and transport times were considerably reduced for the higher capacity sprayers, so more of the 12-hour working period was productive spraying time. Machine costs were less for the UX11200 than the other two systems, and total costs/ha the lowest – by more than one €/ha (£0.72/ha) when tractor usage was taken into consideration.


Amazone suggests as an alternative to multiple smaller UG trailed sprayers, the UX11200 always has an advantage compared to the Pantera. The self-propelled sprayer is used up to 91%, but in the event of a breakdown, the 60 spraying days cannot be maintained.

The saving on the purchase of a UX11200 (about £95,000), compared with three UG3000s (£35,000 each), is about 19% when tractor utilisation is taken into consideration.


Amazone UK’s Brand Manager Simon Brown says: “The UX11200 came out best because of the utilisation of the tractor for other duties when not spraying.”


The UX11200 may be a step too far for many UK farmers, but the 6,700-litre UX6200 is growing in popularity.

Case study: Ivor Gaston and son, Berwickshire

Case study: Ivor Gaston and son, Berwickshire

  • Ivor Gaston and Son farm 360ha near Duns, Berwickshire, on mainly rolling land with some heavy soils. In 2014 Ivor Gaston traded up from a 4,000-litre trailed sprayer to an Amazone UX6200, with 6,600-litre tank and 36m boom.

Mr Gaston says: “We needed more capacity to boost our output. One field is 42ha so it was impossible to spray the whole field at 100 litres/ha on a single fill. Some of the land is up to two miles apart, so it would be more convenient to cover 60-65ha with one tankload.”


He says while the range of high capacity sprayers is more limited – his previous supplier didn’t offer anything suitable – a self-propelled machine was never an option.


“It’s hard to justify the outlay on a self-propelled machine unless you have a very large acreage or are also using it for liquid fertiliser, they are a bit of a luxury.”


Mr Gaston says the high specification offered on the UX6200 has made it easy to use. “There’s full GPS mapping and auto-shut-off, so there are no overlaps and once the required amount has been applied it switches off,” he says.


The sprayer is pulled by a JCB Fastrac with Trimble auto-steer, which Mr Gaston says, works well with the software on the Amazone sprayer for a high level of accuracy.


This has allowed a move to 36m booms from the 28m used previously as he no longer tramlines when drilling.


“We have autoboom height control and have not found a 36m boom any more difficult to operate,” he says.


The Fastrac offers the benefit of four-wheel steering, which means there is only one set of wheel marks on the headland. “The Amazone sprayer has steering axles rather than the drawbar steering used on the older machine, which makes it much safer, reducing the risk of an overturn.”


The move to 36m has also cut the number of tramlines, leading Mr Gaston to specify 520 85 R42 tyres which can be used all-year-round on the tractor and sprayer.


“We don’t get the ruts which rowcrops can cause in softer ground, and the wider tyres spread the outfit’s weight better.


“Outputs have almost doubled since purchasing this sprayer – I can cover 200ha in a day as the 6,600-litre tank covers 60-65ha on one fill, and you could do more with a bowser. I questioned the wisdom of buying a bigger sprayer but have no regrets.”

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