Boom upgrade levels out arable undulations
When the time came for Ed Knight, Farm Manager at Hindon Farms Ltd. in Wiltshire to replace his 36-metre trailed sprayer, he knew he’d need the very best boom levelling system to enable him to spray accurately and efficiently across the farm’s undulating and sloping 545 hectares of chalk downland. By installing an aftermarket system, his second-hand Chafer Sentry is now more than capable of tracking the farm’s contours with absolute precision.
The arable rotation at Hindon Farms’ Wiltshire operations consists of oilseed rape, peas, wheat, winter and spring barley and oats, with all crop spraying undertaken in-house by farm manager, Ed Knight, whose biggest challenges throughout the farming year are coping with unpredictable and increasingly extreme weather patterns and the ever-present challenge of maintaining adequate control of black-grass populations.
“Black-grass isn’t a serious an issue for us at the moment,” Ed explains, “but we’re always wary of the potential to lose control unless there’s an adequate plan in place.
“We’ve switched to a min-till system to limit black-grass germination and treat seedbeds with glyphosate to keep weed populations under control. But for that strategy to be effective, I need to be able to spray accurately, quickly and effectively to make sure I’m getting the maximum efficacy from our crop protection inputs.”
Ed’s philosophy is that it doesn’t make sense for spray applications to be made at anything other than the very highest standards in terms of timing and accuracy as there is no sense “investing in expensive products if they’re only going to be vapourised into the atmosphere.” His primary focus when spraying is therefore to apply chemicals as accurately as possible in order to reduce wastage, improve crop quality and yield potential, and to improve the business’ profitability.
“Improving the accuracy of spray applications also gives us the potential, where appropriate, to save money by reducing application rates.”
Ed has been using second-hand trailed sprayers at Hindon Farms for as long as his sprayer sales, servicing and maintenance contractor, James Cox of Ridgeway Sprayers, can remember: “Ed started out with a 24m Berthoud before upgrading to a trailed Knight five years ago,” James explains. “With that machine starting to show its age, he phoned me in February 2020 to tell me he’d found an 18-month old 36m Chafer Sentry which was in such good condition he couldn’t afford not buy it… but could I have a look at it to see if I could make one or two improvements to improve its performance.”
The Chafer Sentry – a 5,000 litre, 2016 model – had been privately owned, and in both Ed and James’ opinions had been ‘exceptionally well looked after and meticulously maintained’.
“Finding a used sprayer of that size and in such good condition is nigh on impossible,” James continues. “It obviously hadn’t been worked all that hard by its original owner, but Ed wanted me to install an aftermarket boom levelling system to ensure it could operate accurately and smoothly on the farm’s rolling downland.”
“Chafer machines are known for their solid build quality and dependability,” Ed adds, “and it’s easy to get hold of spares as, being a British company, there aren’t any issues getting parts from countries affected by issues such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. However, I knew that in order for the sprayer to perform as I wanted it to across our hilly and undulating fields – most of which are dominated by steep slopes or awkward valleys – it would need to be fitted with a boom levelling system which reacts quickly and reliably to sudden gradient changes.”
“Fortunately, the knowledge and co-operation of all four companies meant the installation ran like clockwork which meant I had one less thing to worry about while trying to cope with the excessively wet winter turning into a drought-affected spring.”
James therefore fitted the sprayer with the latest Norac UC7 Total Control kit. Additional support during the installation was also provided by Chris Limb of LH Agro who upgraded the operating software within the sprayer’s Topcon Apollo ECU so that it could be controlled by the John Deere spray tractor’s existing ISOBUS terminal.
“According to James and Chris the install was a relatively straightforward process which only took a day or so for them to complete,” Ed explains. “It made no sense for me to give myself a headache by trying to work out how to get the sprayer, boom levelling system and tractor to talk to each other, so I handed everything over to the experts and let them get on with it.
“Throughout the entire process, it was refreshing to see four different companies – Ridgeway Sprayers, LH Agro, Chafer and Hunt Forest (my local John Deere dealership) – all working together to make sure the sprayer was ready as quickly as possible,” Ed continues.
With the upgrades complete, the sprayer is working exactly as Ed had hoped: “We only started using it part-way through the spring so it’s still too early to tell just how much the new sprayer is saving us in terms of inputs and time, but from the outset it was very clear that the boom levelling system is resulting in improved target contact,” he explains. “It has also reduced the number of lost or damaged nozzles I’ve needed to replace which, across a 36-metre boom, can soon add up if the levelling system isn’t working properly.”
Ed also explains that driving the spray tractor is now a less stressful and tiring exercise: “Once I’ve activated the Norac system I just leave it to get on with controlling the boom height, which lets me concentrate on negotiating the farm’s various slopes and topography changes at the appropriate speed,” he describes. “I’m not necessarily covering the ground any quicker, but I’ve certainly got more mental capacity to think about other aspects of my farm management responsibilities.”