One Gloucestershire spray contractor has shunned a large spray tank and wider boom in favour of agility and low ground pressure. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
The 24m, 2700-litre self-propelled sprayer tip-toes across the fields of Gloucestershire for spray contractor Jeremy Wheeler.
As a result of pursuing a low ground pressure focus, Jeremy Wheeler has built up a successful contract spraying business over the last 12 years.
Until recently, his machine of choice was an Agribuggy Stealth, which replaced a tractor-mounted unit and allowed the move from a 20-metre boom to a 24m one.
Purchased in 2004 with about 4,000-hours under its belt, the sprayer went on to clock up 10,000-hours.
Spray contractor Jeremy Wheeler says his latest Agribuggy A280 is compact, agile and light on its toes.
Last year, it saw 6,100 hectares (15,000 acres) pass beneath its 24m boom as Mr Wheeler expanded into liquid fertiliser applications too.
“I just do not want a large, heavy, self-propelled sprayer churning up my own tramlines and causing compaction and ruts,” he says. “And nor do my customers. In a wet spring, on wide tyres, the buggy has always been as close to floating as you could get.”
Based at the 140ha (350-acre) Bulley Farm, Churcham, Gloucestershire, Mr Wheeler says once the seed drill has left his fields, the Agribuggy is now the heaviest machine which travels on his land before the combine moves in.
"Compaction has been reduced compared to a tractor and spreader, and it is much harder to see where the Buggy has been,” he says. “I do not have to worry about heavily rutted tramlines.”
It is this considered approach which continues to find favour with local customers, and the success of the early Stealth model prompted a swap last autumn to a much newer machine. While continuing with the lightweight Agribuggy concept, Mr Wheeler opted for the latest A280 model to maintain his business’ philosophy of treading lightly.
“Given my expanding workload, I wanted to minimise the risk of breakdowns and downtime, which could occur with an older machine and a busy schedule,” he says. “Moving to a newer machine lets me continue to give customers a timely service, following their agronomists’ recommendations.
“But I still wanted to tread lightly – and the A280 ticked all those boxes.”
He says other sprayers were briefly considered, but he chose to stick with Kellands for its ability to back-up and support the lightweight sprayer.
A280’s Gen III cab delivers on space, comfort and noise level.
“It is only a 30-minute run to Kellands’ yard and I have driven my previous sprayer to their premises, repaired it, then carried on working,” he says. “My old sprayer weighed just 6.4 tonnes when loaded with two tonnes of water, and this new one is not much heavier.”
For autumn and spring work, the sprayer sits on 560/60 R22.5 tyres to make the most of the sprayer’s 50:50 weight distribution, while 12.4 R36 row crop wheel and tyre equipment boosts ground clearance to a useful 750mm.
Mr Wheeler continued with a 24m aluminium boom to suit his and his customers’ existing tramline systems, but gained extra productivity from a modest increase in spray tank size from 2,000 up to 2,700 litres. “I am pleased to have a little extra tank capacity, but I do not always fill the tank,” he says. “Field size and ground conditions do influence the volume of liquid which I carry.”
He adds typical field sizes in the area can range from small paddocks, which need treating with the boom folded at 12m, up to a 28ha (70-acre) field which will need a full spray tank applying at 100 litres/ha (40 litres/acre). “I fill the sprayer according to the fields I need to cover,” he says. “This lets me maximise logistics, to suit application rates of up to 300 litres/ha with fertilisers, and from 100-125 litres/ha with sprays.”
But perhaps equally important is the arrival of the A280 which has brought a lot of additional technology to the Gloucestershire spray contractor.
“I have gone from seven manual boom sections to nine auto boom sections, with control through a TeeJet system to provide the GPS operation,” he explains. And the two end sections have been configured as single nozzles, which are proving their worth with overlaps, by delivering savings for customers.
In-cab controls include a TeeJet system for auto section control.
“The outer nozzles spend a lot of time switched off, which really shows up just how much overlap there is from those customers who still chose to drill their crops using bout markers,” he adds. “And just by switching off one nozzle, my sprayer is helping to reduce their chemical bill.”
Bought as an ex-prototype chassis with 1,000-hours under its belt, but equipped with an all-new spray pack, Mr Wheeler has already added 500 hours to the sprayer. The A280 brings extra horsepower over his previous sprayer, thanks to a Cummins 148hp engine.
Power is transferred to the ground mechanically using a four-speed automatic transmission with two-speed transfer box, though he adds the electronic joystick can be slow to respond, particularly if you want to move quickly from forwards to reverse.
"In a wet spring, on wide tyres, the buggy has always been as close to floating as you could get"
- MATTHEW WALLACE
“The gearbox can sometimes be a little dim-witted, but it is a compromise I am prepared to accept.”
Switchable two- and four-wheel drive with a locking centre differential add to the traction, while four-wheel steering boosts manoeuvrability.
“Field access can sometimes be challenging, with narrow lanes and tight gateways, but the short wheelbase and four-wheel steering lets me negotiate all of it with ease – and that is something a physically larger machine would not do quite as easily.” However, narrow lanes and overhanging branches are something he is acutely aware of.
“Nozzle damage is one thing, but I had the misfortune of knocking the nearside mirror arm back to the point where it would not let me open the cab door,” he says. “I had to pull into a layby where people were parked, so they could move the mirror to allow the door to open.”
Four-speed ZF autobox and cruise control make for an easy drive.
This aside, he has high praise for the latest generation Agribuggy, which also delivers a 50kph road speed and in-field cruise control capability.
“The sprayer rides very well, and its aluminium boom is great to use,” he says. “I also prefer the larger Gen III cab compared to my previous Stealth, and this gives me far greater comfort. Long days in the cab are much less tiring, and the GPS section control is also a contributing factor to reducing fatigue.”
To prolong the life of his five-way nozzle bodies in the field, Mr Wheeler has cable-tied plastic shielding on the front side of the boom, protecting both boom tips.
“The open frame is great, but there are times when overgrown hedgerows and twigs can get caught around the boom tips on headlands, and this prevents unwanted nozzle damage,” he adds. “If this model lasts as long as my previous sprayer, it will have been money well spent.”