Spray contractor Aubrey Andrews has found a useful niche business in the Cotswolds for quad bike-based applications. Jane Carley finds out more...
Quad bikes offer the opportunity to provide specialist contract services for sensitive or difficult conditions.
With his wife Sue, Aubrey Andrews raises pedigree Texels at Lypiatt Farm near Stroud, fitting in spraying around stock work.
He says: "I have a Frazier Agribuggy self-propelled sprayer, which is ideal for the wet, hilly terrain, but for the most demanding conditions we offer spraying and weed-wiping using a Honda Foreman 500 quad.
“It is a useful part of the business, with livestock farms, estates and equestrian facilities the main customers. While the bike can go pretty much anywhere, you do have to be aware of the risk of tipping over on steep land, especially with a fully laden spray tank behind.”
With this in mind, he swapped from a mounted sprayer to a 400-litre Hardi trailed unit, which has a six-metre boom and a hand lance with 17m hose.
“The hand lance is extremely useful as you can park the quad on level ground and reach up a bank to treat a clump of weeds. Small sprayer tanks do not have the baffles fitted to larger machines, so it is important to be aware of water surging which can push the bike forward downhill.”
He comments there is a more specialist market for quad bike spraying compared with the Agribuggy, although a previous 12m boom machine came in handy for pre-em applications one particularly wet winter.
“We spray quite a lot of horse paddocks, which can be fiddly work as horses are kept in small enclosures. We also look after some of the stud farms locally, although the largest businesses will often have their own quad and sprayer, or are big enough to need the Agribuggy.”
Grassland weed control can also be an irregular task, with many customers only needing his services every two or three years. Nettles are one exception, with their huge root mass making them difficult to keep on top of unless treated every year, and topping actually making them stronger as the roots expand underground.
“We supply the chemicals for non-agricultural customers as they cannot usually buy them, and there are often queries about the prices, but I do not see the point in using anything but premium products,” he says.
A few landscaping and amenity contracts also help to keep the sprayer busy.
He says: “The ability to access difficult, and often hilly land always comes in handy.”
However, weed wiping is increasingly in demand, and Aubrey considered a wider tractor-mounted unit before opting for a trailed 2.5m Logic Connect 2000. He chose the smaller unit as a contracting competitor provides a tractor-based weed wiping service.
“Weed wiping offers chemical savings so it is more economical, but most importantly helps preserve clover in the sward – there are no herbicides which are really clover-safe, and having spent money to improve clover, the last thing the customer wants is to spray it out,” he adds.
“Another benefit is that the weed wiper can be used with stock in the field rather than having to move them.”
Poor weather rarely holds up weed wiping, as the implement can be used when it is too windy to spray and is also effective in damp conditions, he says.
Logic’s Contact 2000 uses a contra-rotating brush rather than traditional wicks, with a mixture of absorbent natural fibres and synthetic fibres in interlocking rings of bristles mounted on a central shaft. A gap between each ring allows the brush to ‘comb’ through vegetation.
“The action of the brush lifts the weed leaves and covers them in chemical rather than trailing over the top,” says Aubrey.
Working height is adjusted via the towbar to position the brush above the grass but in contact with weeds and the unit can be used in an offset position or linked to two other brush sections to give wider working widths.
Application rates are set via a control box mounted on the bike with an override button allowing a targeted dose to be applied on thick clumps of weeds.
He says: “I can work at 8-10kph so can cover a reasonable amount of ground.”
He adds that while some contractors use weed wipers for glyphosate application, he finds it can drip on entry to the field, leaving scorched areas of grass.
“There is a wide choice of chemicals which offer residual action. While these are expensive, it makes sense to have a more lasting effect for most weeds.”
Servicing is carried out by Aubrey, while local dealer Kellands puts the Agribuggy through its annual test, to be joined for the first time this year by the quad sprayer and weed wiper under the latest NSTS regulations.
Having the right quad is another must, he adds, citing the Honda Foreman’s good stability and traction, automatic transmission and strong second-hand value as its main points. However, its popularity does lead to other issues.
“We have had quad after quad stolen, so the latest one has full security marking and a tracker fitted. I have also made the decision to keep this bike at four years old rather than replacing it as the new models seem to be even more attractive to thieves.”