While generally only seen on arable farms, section controlled fertiliser spreaders can also have major benefits for grassland users.
Richard Bradley speaks to a user of Kverneland’s latest high-tech fertiliser spreader.
Grassland is one of the greatest assets to any dairy farmer, and whether they run a grazing system or harvest four silage cuts a year, ensuring it is correctly fed is of major importance. And one farm which has picked up on this is the Wannop family of Heaton Hall Farm, near Lancaster.
As the farm’s 10 year old Vicon fertiliser spreader could not cover the ground fast enough, and was becoming tired with its 607 hectare (1,500 acres) annual spreading workload, the family-run farm began to research higher output options. And while at local dealer Henry Armer’s open night early in 2017, Joe Wannop came across Kverneland’s TL GeoSpread.
Several conversations later, and the deal was done on the high-tech spreader.
Arriving on farm in time for spring application, the high-tech spreader was hooked up to the farm’s prime mover, a John Deere 6150R.
While running a weigh-cell equipped spreader may not be anything revolutionary for grassland farmers, a machine with section control is a something little different. In total, the GeoSpread’s spreading pattern is split up into 24 separate two-metre sections, which automatically shut off as you approach the headland and start again as you begin another run.
To optimise the system’s efficiency, Mr Wannop also uses auto steering to keep the machine at its maximum working width.
He adds: “Previously with the Vicon we were doing 16kph at 12m width, now we are running at 24m bouts and we can travel at up to 30kph. It also has a larger tub with a folding cover so we can carry up to five 600kg bags. By bringing the fertiliser to the field, in the first full day we ran the spreader we covered 202ha (500 acres).
“The cost of the machine is being saved in time and reduced fertiliser use. At the end of the day we are improving our bottom line by being more efficient.”
Along with reducing costs, Mr Wannop says the GeoSpread’s effect can also be seen in the clamp: “Previously we would find small layers of grass in the clamp with too much nitrogen, likely due to overlapping at headlands and on short work. So far, we have not found any layers from last year’s grass as we are applying fertiliser correctly.”
With an emphasis on keeping work in-house where practical, the farm has its own umbilical and harvesting outfit, and only looks to hire in contractors for cultivation duties and chopping maize and whole crop. Mr Wannop says having the forager allows them to chop when the grass is ready and not when a contractor has a window.
“We aim to get the spreader on the fields as soon as possible after a silage cut, ideally before any slurry is applied too. Last year was the first time we have done four cuts, as we have been able to get crops growing sooner. If trailers are keeping up when we are chopping grass, I will drop my trailer off and get a head start spreading.”
Unlike conventional twin-disc spreaders, where application rates are adjusted by the position of manual shutter-stops and forward speed, rates on the GeoSpread are set through Kverneland’s TellusGo IsoBus terminal. This automatically adjusts flow rates to maintain application regardless of forward speed, within reason.
KV’s screen provides the computing power for section control, and allows both guidance and spreader information to be displayed separately.
Mr Wannop adds: “I will generally test each batch of fertiliser in a shaker box, and input the results into the KV terminal. There is no calibration required, so I just have to spread the headland while recording it as a boundary, and then the spreader sorts itself out to cover the rest of the field.
“It takes a little getting used to, but it is only like adjusting to the terminal in a new tractor. A feature which I am yet to try out is being able to recall fields you have spread before, meaning I do not have to record any boundaries, and it will shut off to prevent spreading too close to the edge of the field.”
Transferring the fertiliser from the hopper to the ground, the KV spreader shares its CentreFlow system with the Wannop’s older Vicon. A continuous flow of fertiliser drops onto the centre of the discs, where centrifugal force carries it out through a slot to the spreading vanes.
Fertiliser flows onto the centre of the disc and is forced out to the spreading vanes, rather than being dropped onto the vanes. Mr Wannop says this helps reduce damage to fertiliser.
With this experience, and despite there being several other section-control ready spreaders on the market, Mr Wannop says how no other spreader options were priced up. “We found the Vicon/Kverneland spreaders to be much gentler on the fertiliser with its eight vanes, so you do not end up getting the same dust cloud as with other spreaders.”
During the spreader’s installation with KV, Mr Wannop says the farm’s costal location brought with it typically gale force winds. “As we run at 24m tramlines, I doubted how accurate the spreader would be in windy conditions. However, we have not seen any stripy fields despite our regular winds.”
With a season’s spreading completed, he also says few issues have been encountered. “We have only covered about 647ha (1,600 acres) with the spreader, so have not really put enough through it to see any issues. My only niggle is that it is a little wider than our tractor, but the next model down does not have a big enough tub.
“And as far as improvements go, for us, I cannot see where things can progress further than the GeoSpreader’s section control.”
With three generations still involved in the farm’s operations, Grandfather Maurice Wannop moved to Heaton Hall in 1972. Starting out with 127ha (314 acres), the farm grew with father David and later James and Joe.
Now the farm spans two sites, covering 283ha (700 acres) grassland and grazing marshland, with 500 head dairy cattle plus followers. Maize and whole crop wheat is also bought in, which now completely replace the moist feeds previously bought in for the dairy herd.