Producing vegetables for the supermarket supply chain, Borders grower Drysdales manages an intensive crop production regime spread over a 60-mile radius, with the help of two 4,000-litre self-propelled sprayers. Geoff Ashcroft went to find out more.
As one of two sprayer operators working for Borders-based vegetable producer Drysdales, head sprayer operator Danny Milazzo spends his days applying sprays across 750ha of vegetable crops, which comprise 470ha of sprouts, 235ha of swedes and 45ha of leeks.
With land rented solely for crop production, it means the working radius extends to around 60 miles from the farm’s base at Old Cambus Quarry, Cockburnspath.
“I can spend up to two hours on the longest journeys to reach some of the furthest blocks of land we farm,” explains Danny. “It makes logistics and planning all the more important if we’re to maintain output, timeliness and crop quality.”
Logistics received a useful shot in the arm for the 2020 season, with the implementation of a bowser, which Danny reckons has brought a 30% improvement in productivity. With hook-lift demount bodies used for crop transport with tractor and trailer systems, it made sense to create a bowser that could be moved from farm to farm using the hook-lift system.
“Having a 10,000-litre bowser that can be easily moved between farms means 2.5 fills without having to travel very far for water,” he says. “And, because we rent land from many different land owners, there’s no guarantee we can always access high volumes of water if crops are being irrigated.
“It’s more convenient to have your own water supply, and then tow lockable chemical trailers behind the sprayers from farm to farm. In addition to a pump and hoses, the bowser platform has space for a couple of 1,000-litre IBC’s,” he explains.
High water rates
With typical water rates of over 300 litres/ha, headline output figures often gloss over the impact of logistics and a 50km/h road speed.
“Our lowest rate is 200 litres/ha, and we’ve found that water volumes and nozzle choices do hold the key to our success when creating a premium product for our supermarket customers,” he says.
Currently, Danny spends his days in the cab of a three-year old, 24m/4,350-litre Bargam Grimpeur self-propelled sprayer. With 4,500 hours and 18,000ha under its belt, the Grimpeur is one of two self-propelled sprayers in use at Drysdales – the second is a nine-year old, 10,000-hour Multidrive, which is currently in use as the back-up sprayer.
“We’re in the process of revising our spraying systems, to improve what we do, and how we do it,” he explains. “And part of that process will be to replace our sprayers more frequently, so we can benefit from the very latest in application technology without compromising on reliability.”
With the Bargam operating as the frontline sprayer, it clocks up about 1,500hr each season, with the machine spending most of its time among sprouts. The older Multidrive takes care of the swede crop during peak periods, though it’s hardly enjoying an easy life – this older machine is still clocking up 800 hours/year, which is probably more hours each year than some frontline self-propelled sprayers will cover on arable duties.
The intense spraying workload does not include fertiliser applications – these are handled by a twin disc spreader, applying granular and prilled products.
“We’d like to create a more defined replacement policy for our sprayers, so that the frontline machine runs for two-and-a-half years, and then spends the same period in use as a back-up machine,” he explains.
“Our immediate goal is to replace the Multidrive with a new self-propelled model, and relegate the Bargam to being a back-up machine,” he adds. “This way, we can control our costs, and avoid nasty surprises from unexpected repair bills.”
As part of the replacement policy, the farm is looking to increase boom size too, going up from 24m to 36m.
“Going wider will mean less crop damage,” he says. “And because of transplanting and harvesting machinery, the planted rows do not allow wider spacing for wheelings. So we currently have to tolerate a small proportion of crop damage each time the sprayer runs through. Moving up to a 36m boom will considerably reduce that impact.”
Danny has gone to the trouble of sitting in his fair share of cabs this summer, making the most of sprayer demonstrations to create a short-list for the future.
“I’d be perfectly happy to stick with another Bargam, but we can’t have one on a lease deal. Aside from a few early issues and a couple of hub seals, it’s proved to be a pretty good machine. The 230hp FPT engine is gutsy, and the combination of hydrostatic motor driving mechanical axles has been good. It’s also not heavy on fuel.
“But I would like a little more technology and much better boom ride and stability than I currently have,” he adds.
He likes the Bargam’s integrated hydraulic jacking system that simplifies wheel changes, and has high praise for the in-cab Müller control system.
“My 520 ‘fat’ tyres are not on for long – usually only long enough to run on top of ploughing. It’s 380/90 R46 row crops from there on, and a full set of Michelins have recently replaced the original tyres which have lasted over 4,000 hours,” he says.
“The worn-down cleats were struggling for traction in wetter conditions, but we’ll probably put them back on for dry conditions next spring.”
He says that the wheels have been recently repainted because of the conditions the sprayer works in. “Sprouts are abrasive, and they can soon strip paint off the edges of the wheel rims.”
For its age and hours, the Bargam Grimpeur looks as good as new, thanks in no part to Danny being a keen advocate of cleaning products, and taking pride in his ride. And the addition of a snow-foam lance that can be used with the sprayer’s on-board pressure washer also helps with cleanliness and hygiene when the field gate is closed.
“I’m not prepared to sit in a dirty cab, or wallow in a mucky environment,” he says. “It doesn’t take long to keep the sprayer looking good.”
It is a mindset that also translates into spray tank and nozzle cleanliness too – with frequent in-field wash-outs taking place.
“I’ve never had a blocked nozzle with this sprayer, and I put that down to regular and thorough wash-outs,” he explains.