Bridging the gap between office and sprayer, one Cambridgeshire operator has fully embraced top technology and telemetry to make the most of paperless operations as well as measure and maximise machine utilisation. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
In management terms, it has long been accepted that if you can measure it, you can manage it.
For Tim Clifton, assistant manager and sprayer operator at the Sentry-managed Chivers Farms, Hardwick, Cambridgeshire, using cloud-based MyJohnDeere (MJD) to host machine telemetry data harnessed through JDLink, has put a whole new level of utilisation at his fingertips.
“The information we get back from our tractor and sprayer, for application maps and operating data is staggering,” says Tim. “From machine location, fuel use, idling times, and start and stop times in every field for example, it really does provide a layer of automated traceability that brings benefits to the business.”
Every four months, local dealer Ben Burgess provides utilisation reports, which highlight running costs, including a monetary value for fuel wasted by idling engines.
“In 18 months, the sprayer has clocked up 1,100 hours, applying 1.8 million litres of liquid to 11,000ha,” he says. “Tractor idling time is an eye-opener too, and is something that we would hope could be addressed with start-stop technology.”
Being able to measure every aspect of tractor and sprayer data is helping to improve efficiency across the 950ha Northfield Farm operation, which stretches out over a 10-mile radius and straddles the A14 and M11 motorway.
“Logistical challenges have become better managed, and all our sprays and fertiliser applications are now as seamless, accurate and as efficient as possible,” he says. “Data helps to improve the way we farm, and it has highlighted that our overlaps for example, are just 1%, for a 36m boom with 3m sections.”
All of which has been made more manageable through telemetry using JDLink, with data accessed through the web-based application MyJohnDeere (MJD), which carries all field data and boundary maps too.
“It has become easier to see where time is won or lost, and where we can make improvements,” he adds. “Having instant remote access to data means no more trips back to the office for USB sticks, or to create or analyse job reports.
“Jobs can be copied from Gatekeeper onto MJD, then sent direct to the tractor, or I can create them in the cab from recommendation sheets via email using my smart phone or tablet, and load them straight into the sprayer,” he says.
“It’s easy and immediate. And when I leave a field, all the application data is automatically put on the cloud for all the team to see. They can also be downloaded into Gatekeeper – I don’t have to remember to close the job, it does the lot for me.”
The route to enhanced efficiency came when the farm swapped a self-propelled John Deere 5430i for a trailed R962i and 6175R, in late 2019, to suit its 36m tramline system, which integrates into a 9m controlled traffic farming regime.
“We were looking for better utilisation and by changing to a trailed sprayer, we increased tank size by over 50% and gained a power unit that could be used for other work, when not spraying,” he adds. “In our first year with the tractor, we clocked up over 1,400hr – more than we would ever do with the self-propelled, which shows the versatility of having the tractor available for other work.”
The farm had already been trying out MJD with its self-propelled sprayer, but having a Trimble-equipped Quadtrac meant incompatibility issues were never far away.
“Moving field maps and boundaries between Greenstar and Trimble – through Gatekeeper – was complex, and we could frequently see boundaries move. And that’s not what you need when you’re trying to stick to a fixed CTF regime.
“It became simpler to re-run the sprayer around every headland to re-record the boundaries after cultivations and drilling, but since then, we’ve had a GreenStar-based steering system fitted to the Quadtrac. At least the boundaries don’t move around now,” Tim explains.
The 6175R tractor has had an almost accidental impact on future-proofing precision farming tasks at Chivers Farms.
“I really wanted the LED light package on the tractor, but as an add-on, the cost was considerable,” says Tim. “It was more cost-effective to choose the Ultimate Edition tractor to get the LED lights, as it also brought extra specification.”
Part of that extra spec was a full unlock of JD licence codes, eliminating the need to pay for extra access as equipment technology evolves. “We’ve future-proofed our precision farming technology buying the tractor this way, and every tractor we buy from now on, will be an Ultimate Edition,” he says. “And with variable rate fertiliser applications, and Twin Select nozzle control, we need access to licences.”
The cab of his 6175R Ultimate Edition carries a 4600 terminal on the Command Pro armrest, which he uses for the sprayer terminal; an extended monitor – a second 4600 terminal – used for field maps. Tim also carries a tablet, giving access to Gatekeeper.
“I’ve been pushing for the technology, because I can see how it can make my job much easier, and more efficient. Though it’s been a steep learning curve, and I’ve created some laminated in-cab crib sheets to make it easier to refresh and pick up knowledge,” he adds.
He also has high praise for the 6175R’s Command Pro joystick, which offers different user profiles to be saved, to suit individual preferences between himself and manager Alister Farr.
“This joystick makes the tractor as easy to operate as a self-propelled sprayer. We probably would not have bought a trailed sprayer if it wasn’t for the simplicity of Command Pro, and I really didn’t want two joysticks in the cab.
“With Remote Display Access, I can link into the terminal from my smart phone, should Alister be out spraying and need any help with advanced functionality,” he adds.
When it comes to satellite technology, the spraying outfit runs with two Starfire 6000 receivers. In addition to the cab-roof mounted unit, a second receiver sits on the sprayer, directly above the axle.
“There’s no provision for entering a steering axle into the control box, so when we were turning back on ourselves from an angled headland, it was possible to miss a triangular area as the sprayer straightened up behind the tractor,” he says. “The receiver only really knew where the tractor was, and it had to make an assumption about sprayer position.”
“Adding a second receiver has cured this issue, because the GPS now knows exactly where the sprayer is, in relation to the tractor, which is particularly valuable when making a sharp turn off a headland tramline.
Mega draining rack
To help with the tedious process of can rinsing, Tim has built an industrial-sized can draining structure, which runs any washings back onto the bunded filling area, for safe dispersal.
“With a larger spray tank, there’s more cans to clean and drain, and that means you could easily run out of standing space for chemical containers. So I built one that’s 3m long,” he says.
The bunded filling area at Northfield Farm contains a sediment trap and pump, with any liquid contained and dispersed through a bio-bed.
With RTK guidance, the farm makes the most of its CTF regime, and means the tractor’s rear axle and sprayer axle ride on 650/85 R38 rear tyres. Tractor tyre pressures are 9psi up front, 12psi at the rear, with the sprayer running at just 14psi.
|Operator use rating|
|+ Active Pause|
|+ Norac UC7 boom levelling|
|– induction hopper height|
|– clean water filling|
|Build a can draining platform that offers a generous holding capacity.|
|Business:||Chivers Farms, Hardwick, Cambridgeshire|
|Cropping:||950ha comprising winter and spring combinable crops|
|Sprayer:||36m/6200-litre JD 962i trailed|
|Bowser:||16,000-litre Vegcraft tri-axle bowser|