With operational safety in mind, Ascott Estate has adopted a Meredith Engineering bogie to carry its fertiliser spreader. Is it added cost and complexity or an essential accessory? Geoff Ashcroft reports.
Meredith bogie uses a passive rear axle that follows on headland turns.
When it comes to greater fertiliser spreading efficiency, those chasing larger acreages have resorted to bigger hoppers, adding weight and often need bigger tractors for stability.
But for Ascott Estate at Wing near Leighton Buzzard, there is another important aspect to consider, operational safety. And this is one of the reasons the farm has switched to a Meredith Engineering bogie to carry its latest spreader.
Farm manager Alastair Hall explains; “We wanted to avoid putting operators in an area where their safety is compromised. And putting the spreader on a bogie takes the operator away from many danger areas.”
The farm’s Amazone ZA-TS 4200 with hydraulic drive is used to apply granular fertiliser across 1,450 hectares (3,583 acres) of combinable crops, working on 32m tramlines. “The spreader has plenty of capacity and good output, but adding all that weight to a tractor does have a few drawbacks,” says Mr Hall.
Integral ladder and catwalk add to operator safety when opening bags.
A practical and straightforward solution has been met by the use of a Meredith Engineering bogie system. The trailed, twin axle unit is shod with 560/45 R22.5 tyres, and the chassis carries its own headstock which allows a spreader to be carried. Stainless steel mudguards add durability for the harsh working environment, and they also protect the bogie’s integral road lights.
“We’ve moved to a trailed spreading system, but without the size and complexity of something like a Bredal,” he says. “We are distributing weight across more tyres, and the unit could probably be used with a smaller, lighter tractor. But more importantly, it offers a safe solution for operators having to cut open bags of fertiliser.”
Part of the design includes a robust ladder and catwalk secured to the headstock, allowing the operator to climb safely to the top of the spreader, to open fertiliser bags.
Tandem rocking beam axles provide a stable platform for fertiliser spreading.
While he accepts that many manufacturers offer ladders with their spreaders, he says that there is always temptation to climb on the lower link arms, or put yourself under a swinging bag at the rear of the spreader when you want to cut one open. “The ladder on our Amazone spreader is poor,” he says. “I certainly wouldn’t want to use it, and nor do our operators.”
Ascott’s model also has a passive rear following axle, which can be locked hydraulically from a spool valve when the unit needs to be reversed. “It does follow nicely on headlands and the whole outfit, even with nearly four tonnes of fertiliser in the hopper, doesn’t damage the surface,” he says. “We’re no longer cutting into tramlines and making ruts.”
Operator Philip Nicholls says he locks the rear axle when travelling across banks, as the unit does have a tendency to try and crab. But getting to this newfound operational practice for the 2016 season was not straightforward.
Alastair Hall (left) and operator Philip Nicholls are pleased with the bogie system.
“We do like the simplicity of the unit, though it did take a bit of setting up,” he says. “We had to fabricate a mounting bracket for hose connections, and get extension hoses and cables to span the extended distance between tractor and spreader. And getting an IsoBus socket and extension cable wasn’t cheap, either,” he adds.
The spreader’s fixed ride height is around 200mm higher than it would be when mounted on a tractor, which prompted a tray test from SCS to make sure the ZA-TS remained on target. “We’ve had to slow the disc speed a little,” says Philip. “Though the increased working height does make it a lot easier to get the pressure washer underneath the spreader when we’ve finished.”
Both agree that the drawbar angle isn’t quite right for the farm’s JD7530 tractor, and a bolt-on adjustable drawbar and a swivel hitch are two modifications that the farm intends to add to the unit.
Brackets for quick-release pipes and wiring allow the spreader to be removed in about 10 minutes.
“The front axle is taking a little too much load - it would be better to get the bogie to sit flatter, rather than tipped down at the drawbar.” In addition, Philip says that the raised centre of gravity gives the impression of reduced stability on some of the farm’s steeper banks. “With tandem rocking beam axles, it does ride really well, but the addition of a swivel hitch would look after the tractor, if ever there was a problem.”
With field sizes range from 1.2ha to 50ha (three acres to 124 acres), and an average of 14ha (35 acres), output and manoeuvrability are said to be impressive. To make the most of productivity, the farm’s Scorpion telehandler hauls a trailer loaded with bags directly to the fields. “As I pull up ready to be refilled, I can open the hydraulic hopper lid from the cab, and by the time I’ve climbed the steps up to the catwalk, the bags are in position ready to be opened,” says Philip. “It’s a slick process with very little downtime.”
Flotation tyres spread the weight of the unit when fully laden, allowing the tractor to run without ballast.
He adds that the telehandler driver can always see you, and because you’re not getting into awkward spaces to open bags, he says clothing stays cleaner, and that means a clean cab too. While it is still early days for the Ascott Estate team, all agree that there are additional benefits from using the bogie.
“With the spreader’s weight carried on four large tyres, there is only nominal drawbar weight on the tractor,” says Alastair Hall. “So we don’t need front-end ballast, and we could probably get away with using a smaller, lighter tractor for the same task which means even less compaction and probably lower fuel consumption too.”
“You could easily argue that the bogie is an added cost that you probably don’t need,” he adds. “But for us, the bogie offers a safe and convenient solution to improve how we carry out fertiliser spreading.”