Slurry application equipment is becoming more precise and efficient but is customer demand for technology keeping pace? Jane Carley speaks to specialist contractor Paul Joseph.
Using a 24m dribble bar and high capacity pumping equipment makes for efficient slurry application, suggests contractor Paul Joseph.
Contractor Paul Joseph’s slurry business remains firmly rooted in traditional dairy and mixed farming, although he also sees demand from anaerobic digestion plant operators and expanding arable enterprises.
He says; “We pumped 280,000 cubic metres of slurry in 2015, of which the majority was cow slurry, and 60-70,000cu.m was digestate.”
Mr Joseph aims to offer the most cost-effective slurry service possible, while helping customers get the best out of the nutrients offered.
“Farmers are encouraged to expand their herds to make their businesses more efficient, but maintaining sufficient slurry storage is often forgotten. Thus it’s important to work closely with our customers, plan ahead and have enough application capacity to get the job done in a timely fashion.”
Contractor Paul Joseph runs John Deere 6R and Massey 6480 tractors.
With 32 years’ experience in contracting as well as running his own small suckler and beef enterprise near Swindon, Wilts, he is well placed to advise.
“Customers often want to put slurry on the same fields close to the farm and neglect that one outlying field, but it’s a false economy – you’ve still got to spend money on fertiliser for that field.”
Having the right equipment is essential to meet the needs of customers as far afield as Portsmouth and into Wales, and Mr Joseph’s operation is centred on umbilical application.
Three pump kits each comprise a Bauer SX2000 pump, engine and compressor, all built to Mr Joseph’s design, with two kits operated via remote control.
Each kit has 400m of 6in pipe, 1,200m of 5in pipe and 400m 4in pipe. To cover far flung fields a further 800m of 6in pipe is available. Each pumping rig is operated by a minimum of two men, and slurry and digestate are applied using 24m or 12m dribble bar spreaders.
Trailed pumping rigs mean pipes, pump and compressed can be transported by one tractor.
Mr Joseph comments that umbilical systems are well suited to the wet land in the south west, allowing applications in conditions when a tanker could not travel.
“There’s less compaction and less wear on farm tracks. It’s also a very efficient set up if you do it right – six inch pipes give plenty of output, while using two operators means that one can focus on application while the other looks after the pump and the hoses.”
John Deere 6R and MF6480 tractors are the application tractors of choice, shod on 650 and 600 tyres to minimise compaction further, with mounted rather than trailed hose reelers. Mr Joseph comments: “We have seen the benefits of this on the dryer land in Hampshire where cattle are kept in New Zealand-style extensively grazed systems. Farmers don’t want to see a tyre mark and we can get on the land without damaging the sward.”
Another plus is easier travelling through increasingly urbanised areas. “We picked up one big job this year where the farmer had trouble getting through the villages with tankers. But we can also be flexible, using a nurse tank supported by road tankers, where the field is a long distance from the farm.”
Having a tanker in the fleet as back-up gives flexibility and offers opportunities on sites not suited to umbilical systems.
An 18cu.m Samson tanker is due to be added to the fleet and can be used with the 24m dribble bar or a splash plate applicator. It replaces a Joskin Enduro that Mr Joseph admits was originally purchased as a ‘fire engine’.
“If a farmer needs us in a hurry to empty a pit we can send the tanker rather than pull an umbilical team out of a site that they are already working on. But on the flinty land in Hampshire where we do a lot of our arable work, umbilical systems are not suitable, so the new tanker will come in useful there.”
The 24m Vogelsang dribble bar is fitted with GPS section control, operated via the terminal in the tractor, and he comments that the main use of this is currently in cutting overlaps at the headland.
“We can shut the inside section off and increase the forward speed so that the headland doesn’t get overdosed, which can cause the cows to reject the grazing.”
The package also includes a Telestirrer, a telescopic handler-mounted slurry stirrer, which is used to stir lagoons and towers, eliminating the crust and homogenising the slurry.
Tractor mounted reelers and wide tyres help cut compaction and allow application throughout the year, taking the pressure off slurry storage capacity.
Having modern, efficient equipment also means that Mr Joseph is well positioned to exploit opportunities that come along – including application of digestate.
“We currently have contracts with four AD plants, two of which are processing food waste and two farm-based. We have also done some work for digestate specialists 4R.”
He comments that he expects demand for digestate to increase as farmers see the benefits of the nutrients offered, increased microbial activity and thus soil quality.
“However, it needs to be spread at the right time as the nitrogen is more readily available so we work mainly in growing crops – oilseed rape after drilling and in winter outside of NVZs and then onto grass and then cereals in the New Year. It’s important to know your crop and variety to maximise benefits and avoid problems.”
Mr Joseph adds that section control could be useful to apply digestate in zones via Greenstar maps, and that John Deere’s Manure Sensor development is also of interest to precisely quantify nutrients at application but points out: “The jobs are not always profitable enough to justify the level of investment in technology, although there is growing interest in more
He suggests that in such pressing times for dairy farmers, umbilical slurry application remains the most cost effective solution, especially for larger herds.
“You can try and cut costs by using your own tankers, but it’s hard to stay ahead with spreading when you really shouldn’t be on the land. In the right conditions we can put 1,000cu.m on per day, so in most places it doesn’t take long to empty their store.”