A long list of spring jobs can leave farmers struggling to prioritise, particularly those with livestock and arable enterprises. Abby Kellett and Marianne Curtis get some tips on maximising spraying efficiency and effectiveness
With 350 ewes to lamb, 60 cows to calve and about 60 hectares (150 acres) of spring crops to sow, Shropshire farmer Douglas Hughes says risk mitigation is key in controlling disease.
With a cereal area amounting to about 120ha (300 acres), ensuring livestock duties do not detract from arable operations is a priority for Mr Hughes.
So in order to reduce labour demand during the key fungicide timings, he opts for early calving. His first calves are due in December and he calves through until mid-February. Cows which slip out of this cycle are culled in order to keep the calving season tight.
Similarly, ewes lamb from early March to avoid having to employ an additional member of staff.
But even when lambing and calving are brought forward, there are still several jobs which clash with spring fungicide application.
Mr Hughes says: “We tend to have a mad rush when we are putting spring crops in while also spreading fertiliser, spraying and trying to look after stock.
“In years when the weather is good, we can manage with just two full-time members of staff, but in years where there are only a handful of dry days, we struggle and sometimes have to get a contractor in to do some spraying.
“I do not want to do this if I can help it as it is an extra cost. Sometimes we are no better off because we want him when everyone else wants him.”
To provide some flexibility, Mr Hughes routinely applies a T0, which provides some protection if the T1 timing is missed.
“Some people may say it is creating extra work, but for me it is like an insurance policy if we cannot get the T1 on when we need to.
“We do not spend a lot on the T0, unless it is a particularly bad septoria year. Normally it is a Bravo with some Folicur,” he says.
By growing Skyfall, which has an RL disease resistance rating of 6 for septoria, he gains some further protection if fungicide timing is missed.
Where multiple wheat varieties are grown, he targets the most susceptible ones for early spraying.
To maximise the number of spray days, Mr Hughes uses air induction nozzles over flat fan, which helps reduce drift.
“We use Amistar air induction nozzles which allow us to get on spraying, even when there is a bit of wind and we are still getting good plant coverage. When you need to cover a large acreage, I find you can get away with driving a bit faster too,” he says.
Reducing water volume is a key tool which can help maximise spraying efficiency and efficacy, according to Syngenta new farming technologies and applications specialist James Thomas.
“Traditionally, most product labels recommend spray volumes of 200 litres per hectare but you can massively increase efficiency if you reduce this to 100 litres/ha. We studied this with our application club and it led to a 30 per cent increase in output, covering 130ha a day instead of 100ha, for example.
“The other advantage concerns efficacy. If you go out in a raincoat in heavy rain, it runs straight off like high water volumes. In a fine mizzle it sticks to the rain jacket. Similarly, with lower water volumes, it sticks to the plant,” says Mr Thomas, saying the effect is particularly significant with fungicides and post-em herbicides.
Restricting forward speed to no more than 12kph is also important in maximising efficacy and reducing spray drift, says Mr Thomas. “It is a balancing act between efficacy, spray drift and efficiency.”
Developments in sprayer technology are also helping to maximise spray days. Variable geometry booms with levelling systems, such as the Horsch and SAM ranges, are helping reduce drift, says Mr Thomas.
“If you can maintain a boom height of 50cm it massively reduces drift and you can get away with more in terms of weather. It is also proven to boost efficacy as more spray is reaching the target.”
Nozzle choice can also reduce drift, he adds. “It has an impact on timing and efficacy. A three-star LERAP nozzle offers 75 per cent drift reduction compared with a 03 flat fan nozzle, allowing you to travel in more marginal conditions.”
Increasing spray tank size, using bowsers or locating refill points around large farms can also help improve spraying efficiency, he says.
Weather patterns seem to be reducing suitable spray days so making the most of spray opportunities is vital, says Mr Thomas.
“In late September and early October it was unseasonably dry and windy, creating issues for operators applying pre-emergence herbicides. And I do not think this spring is any kinder. We had 10mm of rain in Cambridgeshire yesterday [Mar 20], which will lead to problems travelling for the next few days. The short- to mid-term forecast is also suggesting unsuitable wind speeds preventing application.”
In terms of prioritising crops for spraying, Mr Thomas suggests considering varietal resistance. “It is about being proactive before disease comes into the crop and identifying the varieties most at risk. Timing is the most crucial thing.”
The variation in autumn drilling dates was also significant, which could help spread workload on some farms with crops reaching spray timings at different rates.
“It was a dry autumn with black-grass not chitting, so many drilled late in the East, whereas earlier drilled crops are reaching T0.”
Running a spraying contracting business which typically covers about 6,070 hectares (15,000 acres) a year, while also having 500 ewes to lamb, Northumberland farmer-contractor, Peter Telfer relies on forward planning and good weather to ensure fungicide timings are met.
During spring, Mr Telfer covers nearly 1,600ha (4,000 acres) of arable land with a Kellands Agribuggy A280 self-propelled sprayer which has a 24-metre boom.
With a 2,700-litre tank and using water volumes of about 100 litres/ha, he is able to spray about 27ha (67 acres) per tank, which typically takes him about 1.5 hours.
This is helped by the use of Hypro Guardian air induction nozzles which allow him to travel at 12kph. He says travelling faster than this could compromise the spray quality.
He says: “Travelling about 12kph at 3 bar is about where I like to be for good work speeds and to get adequate plant coverage. Any faster and you would be compromising application quality.”
While Mr Telfer has had experience using water bowsers to reduce downtime, he says there are complications when it comes to having someone trail them between fields.
“Firstly, getting someone part-time in spring is difficult. And although it would reduce the amount of trips back to the yard, it means paying for someone to do very little for 90 minutes between fills.”
Having reduced the overall annual area he covers, Mr Telfer has realised the importance of keeping his workload at a manageable level.
“In the past, I covered about 21,000 acres a year, but the workload was just too much. It was a struggle keeping on top of it all, especially with the livestock at home.
“In keeping workloads to a level which can be comfortably maintained, you are giving yourself some leeway in case the weather is not on your side, which is often the case.”
Since his customers are spread over a 47km radius, grouping jobs together improves efficiency. But inevitably, the growth stage of the crop dictates where he has to be and when, he says.
As such, he says farmers have to be fully committed to their contracting business, even when running it alongside a livestock enterprise.
“You have to be prepared to drop everything when needed. It is no good turning down jobs or putting jobs off or you will not keep your customers.
“Being prepared helps a lot. In my case, I lamb earlier than I otherwise would so I can focus entirely on the spraying side of the business when we get into spring.
“I also hire additional staff at lambing to keep things in check when I am away.”