A 14,000-hour working classic is helping to keep a lid on depreciation for a Shropshire grower, who favours a 25-year old Fendt tool carrier and Knight Laser sprayer to carry out all applications. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
When Rob Kennerley invested in the very latest Knight sprayer technology in 1995, little did he know it would still be serving him well more than 25 years later.
The mounted 24m, 1,100 litre Laser sprayer was then paired with a 1000-litre front tank, and for the first half of its working life, was used on a Ford 7810. At the time, the sprayer was considered cutting edge, being equipped with an AirJet system integrated into its triplet nozzle bodies.
Created by TeeJet, the AirJet system was referred to as a ‘twin fluid’ nozzle, engineered to offer low volume spraying at a time when 200 litres/ha was the norm. Its use was said to enable operators to halve the water volume to 100 litres/ha, delivering a revolutionary step forward in productivity a quarter of a Century ago.
While Knight still offers the AirJet system on request, advances in nozzle technology have since largely overtaken the need for this innovative system.
More spray days
“AirJet really appealed to me as a system that could extend spraying windows through air-filled droplets,” says Rob. “With any application, it’s important to do the best you can, to get the best impact from all applications.”
Rob carries out all spray and liquid fertiliser applications at the family-run 160ha Oaklands Farm at Bagley, Shropshire, where he farms with sons Oliver and Rory. Crops grown include hybrid rye, maize, energy beet and cover crop mixes – the latter ensuring the farm maintains soil biology, keeping a cover on soils at all times.
“I guess that with an average of 10-12 applications/year, the Knight sprayer has done over 100,000 acres so far. And it’s likely to be in use for many years to come. After all, in its simplest form, a sprayer is only a tank, pump and boom,” he adds.
While the sprayer is still in regular use, the Ford tractor was moved onto gentler duties about ten years ago, though its replacement wasn’t just another conventional tractor. The farm wanted more output from its applications, and rather than re-invest in another sprayer at considerable cost, the family explored the option of using a tool carrier.
Choosing a tool carrier would give a generous load-carrying platform on the front of the chassis, providing room for a large front tank. It was a thought process that eventually resulted in the purchase of a Fendt 395GT.
It was a decision influenced by son Oliver’s time spent working at Farmers Weekly’s once venerable Easton Lodge Farm, where he experienced the practicalities of a Fendt tool carrier.
“We wanted more output, and it just made financial sense to find a way to go bigger with the front tank, rather than start again and buy a new sprayer,” explains Oliver. “So we took our time and located the tool carrier. Then all we had to do was find a larger capacity tank to put on the front chassis.”
Tool carrier tractor
In the early 1990s, Fendt’s tool carrier was to prove a radical departure from conventional tractor designs – but a concept rarely been seen this side of the English Channel. Popular in Germany, its seven-model range was headed up by the 395GT, in a line-up that spanned 45hp-115hp.
Engines and transmissions are located beneath the cab, requiring the cab to be tilted for maintenance. This creates a low centre of gravity, and for the 395GT, a weight distribution of 70% rear, 30% front.
This 1995-model 395GT bought by the Kennerleys about ten years ago, has now clocked over 14,000 hours, and has required only a clutch during the family’s ownership, delivering on depreciation and running costs. Some would consider the Fendt tool carrier to be an appreciating classic.
System tractor sprayer
The Fendt is used exclusively for sprays and fertiliser applications at Oaklands Farm, and is considered as productive as a small self-propelled, but at a fraction of the cost. With help from Central Crop Sprayers at Whitchurch, they found a GEM 2,100-litre front tank, which boosts capacity by a further 1,100 litres, up to a total of 3,200 litres. “This means we can now cover 32ha on a fill, working at 100 litres/ha. With liquid fertiliser, our rates vary from 150-350 litres, depending on the crop, though we’ve had to give the fuel pump a tweak to help on slopes with the extra weight,” says Rob.
Installing the front tank has seen the farm run through a few in-field developments, to get the combination to work more efficiently.
“The front tank agitation wasn’t very good so, with the help of Central Crop Sprayers’ Andy Parry, we’ve also run a pipe up over the top of the tank to install a second agitation outlet. A flow restrictor was needed at the first outlet, to push liquid up to the top of the tank. And it works extremely well,” he explains.
Other improvements include a change of drive for the front tank’s transfer pump. Previously a hydraulically driven unit, the system now operates from the front PTO, and has been installed on a plate using Land Rover engine mounts to reduce vibration.
“This 395GT has only three spools, and two are on a joystick which I use for boom height and boom levelling, with the third used for boom folding. I had to stop and divert hydraulic flow, to transfer liquid, which was an inconvenience,” he explains.
Rob now has the ability to move liquid on demand, using the front PTO. “It’s handy if you’re using two separate mixes through the rear induction hopper, or if you just want to adjust the balance of the tractor on slopes. It’s also helpful having all that weight on the front axle. Traction is incredible,” he says.
To make operation more convenient, Rob has mounted a rear-view camera on the top of the boom’s mast that connects to the TeeJet Matrix screen. He has also mounted support brackets onto the cab roof, to carry the boom when folded, to take the weight off both sides, when travelling on the road.
The tractor’s low ground pressure boots are 600/55 R26.5 up front, and 28.1 R26 on the rear. A set of row crops do get fitted, but are spaced to create a track width of around 2.3m, allowing the tractor to straddle four 750mm rows in beet and maize.
Rob’s nozzle choices are straight-forward, and are spun on their holders to suit. In addition to the AirJet nozzle, he carries a 200 litre/ha nozzle and a fertiliser nozzle. Spraying speeds are 11.5km/h, and in a nod to modern technology, the sprayer has been upgraded with an RDS Delta 34i rate controller and a TeeJet Matrix Pro for steering guidance when applying on cover crops or stubbles.
“It might seem to many like a very basic and straightforward system compared with today’s high-tech solutions, but it still applies accurately to the rates on our recommendation sheets, and it passes its NSTS test,” he says. “I can’t see the benefit in spending a six-figure sum on a spraying outfit, when this provides all the output, accuracy and spray quality that I require.”