Changing from a modern self-propelled sprayer to a trailed model with more capacity is expected to result in similar work rates at reduced cost for a large Essex farm.

EW Davies Farms Ltd is based at Thaxted, near Dunmow and currently farms approximately 1,300ha, including land which is owned, contract-farmed and on FBTs. Most is within a five-mile radius of the Thaxted base, but there is also land at Waltham Abbey approximately 30 miles away, which was the original farm owned by the Davies family and which shares the machinery and labour.


Sustainable farming

The enterprise is a LEAF-accredited demonstration farm and employs strategies to improve soil health and sustainability, including the farm’s flock of Poll Dorset sheep which graze on grass leys to increase soil organic matter and help control resistant grass weeds. Predominantly heavy clay land grows winter crops including wheat, barley, oats, beans and linseed and there is also a small amount of oilseed rape currently, although in recent years it was dropped from the rotation. Spring crops include beans, barley and sugar beet as well as maize for a local AD plant. This year beans, some of the winter wheat and spring barley are being grown for seed and wheat at Waltham Abbey is for milling, so achieving clean, healthy crops is the priority.

Machinery and operators travel from Thaxted to farm the land at Waltham Abbey so it is cropped as a single block for ease of management. The land at Thaxted is all within just a few miles of the base, allowing a more diverse rotation to be used. As part of its strategy to improve soil condition a 12m Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) regime was introduced in 2011, and at the same time tramline spacing was increased from 24m to 36m.

Preferred dealer and brand

A new Amazone UX6201 Super 6,200-litre trailed sprayer supplied by RW Crawford Agricultural Machinery Ltd does all the spraying having replaced an Amazone Pantera 4,500-litre, self-propelled machine in 2021. “That was our second Pantera which replaced a similar earlier model, and before that we had two Amazone trailed sprayers – one of which worked alongside the first Pantera applying liquid fertiliser,” explained Farm Manager Jeremy Durrant. “We have an excellent relationship with the Amazone UK team and are well looked after by our dealer, so although we keep an eye on what other manufacturers and dealers are offering it would take a lot to persuade us to change.”

High spec trailed

Amazone’s UX Super trailed sprayers come with a high standard specification but the farm also specified upgrade options increasing accuracy, productivity and ease of use. These include the latest Super-L3 boom with three-part, electronically controlled folding allowing use at 36m, or folded to 24 or 12m. It can also be used with one side folded to 12m or 6m while the other remains at 18m. ContourControl Flex 2 maintains a constant nozzle height above the target on undulating ground as the boom angle adjusts both above and below horizontal. The boom also has SwingStop which almost totally eliminates sway. AmaSelect electronic nozzle control is fitted. Benefits include optimum spray efficacy and reduced drift as optimum droplet size is maintained while the flow rate alters to suit the travel speed. AmaSelect is also used by CurveControl which adjusts each nozzle’s flow rate during turns, based on the position on the boom to avoid under- or over-dosing.

“I’m very impressed by CurveControl,” commented the sprayer’s main operator David Hunt, who joined the farm team last year. “It’s easy to set up through the Isobus-linked tractor terminal and once I have ‘told’ the system what nozzles are fitted and specified the range of suitable working pressures then operation is completely automatic. I can clearly see it working as the spray rate adjusts across the boom – reducing on the inside to prevent over-dosing while increasing through the outside nozzles, so that the required application rate is maintained.”

User-friendly filling

The sprayer has tandem pumps as standard – one for agitation and the other for spraying and secondary agitation. At high spray volumes of more than 260 litres/min, the flow from both pumps is automatically combined. The new sprayer also has an optional 160 litres/min third pump used only for clean water. This allows the fresh water and main tanks to be filled from one hose simultaneously without risk of contamination, and it also permits continuous cleaning of the spray system.

Comfort-Package plus makes tank filling easier and helps avoid mistakes. Settings are made through a 7-in touchscreen at the operator station. “It’s user-friendly and I can easily programme filling for the volume and mix, including a pause for adding multiple products,” commented David. “Agitation can be adjusted to reduce foaming or increased for thorough mixing of powders.”

Why trailed?

Asked why the farm opted for a trailed sprayer rather than another self-propelled model, Jeremy said that the decision was mainly due to dropping oilseed rape from the rotation. “We didn’t need the high clearance to such an extent, and the trailed sprayer cost considerably less. It has similar control systems and achieves the same high level of accuracy, while Isobus control means it connects straight to the tractor terminal so it’s very user-friendly. There is an argument that preparing trailed sprayers for work takes longer but in reality it takes little time to hitch the Amazone to the tractor. The extra tank capacity means we don’t fill up as often, leaving more time for spraying in the field and this more than compensates – so the daily work rate is very similar.”

The sprayer has active steering and its wheels accurately follow the same path as the tractor’s, so additional crop damage isn’t an issue.

Competitor considered

Before confirming the order for the Amazone trailed sprayer, an equivalent premium brand competitor was also trialled. “I used an Amazone trailed sprayer on the farm I worked at previously and also used a sprayer similar to the other we tried,” added David. “There was little to criticise on either machine, but overall I preferred the Amazone. It’s easier to use and features such as ContourControl increase application accuracy which is important. Having used it since its arrival in January 2021 I’m convinced we made the right decision. It’s a great sprayer.

“I also used the Pantera at the end of last year and although I liked it, I prefer using my own tractor with the trailed sprayer. It’s more familiar and everything is set up as I like it.”

Demanding workload

The sprayer works hard, and the season starts immediately after harvest applying glyphosate to stale seedbeds as part of the strategy to combat black-grass. With many crops intended for premium markets applications are timed for maximum efficacy. “Rather than spending extra on additional chemicals, we use a robust application program involving multiple passes at reduced doses with timings kept close for continued protection,” Jeremy explained. “This means the sprayer and operator can work long days, but with our average 8ha field size we easily achieve 250ha of spraying per day with the trailed sprayer, giving us plenty of capacity even in a difficult season.”

Amazone preferred

The farm acquired its first Amazone product – a fertiliser spreader, in 2010 and the Amazone fleet now includes a Cayena 6m drill, a Cenius 6m cultivator, a ZA-TS twin-disc fertiliser applicator and the trailed sprayer.

“Since changing to granular fertilisers we have relied on Amazone spreaders,” added Jeremy. “Our current machine replaced an Amazone ZA-M model and spreads accurately to 36m. It’s tested and checked by SCS each year and there is never an issue. We use Yara fertilisers, and tray tests confirm accurate application across the full width. The border control is precise too. I really wouldn’t operate any other brand of spreader.”

Excellent support

Crawfords has become the main supplier for most of the farm’s machinery. Apart from a high horsepower tracked machine, the farm’s tractors were all supplied by Crawfords including a Fendt 724 Vario which pulls the sprayer, an 828 Vario and a new 942 Vario. A Can-Am ATV was also purchased recently.

“We get on well with the Crawford team and are confident that we can rely on the back-up available,” Jeremy concluded. “The dealer offers respected brands and we have gradually invested in more Amazone machinery as our fleet was updated.

“On one occasion a breakdown occurred on a Saturday evening and we contacted Amazone UK to check availability of a replacement part. The Managing Director at that time took our call and arranged for the part to be left out for collection, then first thing on the Sunday morning Crawfords engineers were on the farm to fit it and get us working again. We just can’t ask for better service than that.”

 

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