Although Micron is a major UK manufacturer of sprayers with a record of achievement that includes two Queen’s Awards to Industry, its products are better known overseas than in the country where they are made.
Micron’s success dates back to the 1950s when Edward Bals began researching alternative spraying technology. He was born in Austria, but concerns about Hitler led him to move to England in the 1930s and then to China where he witnessed major famines when large numbers of people died of starvation. This experience resulted in his life-long dedication to improving crop protection in third world countries.
After returning to England he developed the Controlled Droplet Application (CDA) technology, using spinning discs to produce evenly sized droplets giving more uniform cover with reduced drift risks. This allows reduced spray volumes to be used, cutting costs and increasing work rates.
CDA has achieved enormous success in Africa with well over one million Micron sprayers supplied to small-scale farmers, and they have also become the standard method for controlling locusts and other pests in many third world countries. UK farmers and growers started using CDA equipment in the 1980s, but its success here is limited because agrochemical labels do not include low volume application and the wording on labels has also become increasingly restrictive. Efforts by Micron and bodies such as the Agricultural Engineers’ Association to resolve the labelling problem have so far been unsuccessful.
Micron products currently sell in more than 100 countries and export sales have previously contributed up to 98 per cent of company turnover. This figure has currently fallen to just under 90 per cent - not because of a fall in export business but due to the success of new products that attract UK customers. Shielded sprayers, using either CDA or traditional hydraulic pressure nozzle, are a recent success, controlling weeds while virtually eliminating drift risks.
The original shielded units used Micron CDA atomisers and were developed by an Australian company for working in vineyards, but the idea has obvious potential for a wide range of other crops so Micron bought the company in 2004 to continue development work.
Tom Bals, who took Micron over from his father, says the shielded sprayers are increasingly used in UK vegetable and herb production plus strawberries and other fruit. A new version, called the Varidome, has potential for weed control in arable crops such as oilseed rape, maize and sugar beet. “CDA continues to be very successful overseas,” he said “but we have extended our product range to include other precision application technologies. Micron sold the first sprayer for variable rate application in the UK in the 1990s and we are now also selling spot applicators, weedwipers and injector units plus the DropSpray system developed by a potato grower. Drop Spray uses droplegs on a boom sprayer, releasing the spray beneath the leaf canopy for more accurate targeting.
“Future crop spraying developments promise greater accuracy and efficiency, and improved spray targeting, low volumes and variable application rates are key drivers,” he said. “However major changes are needed in our regulatory system to allow improved application technology to benefit the user and the environment.”
Company: Micron Group
HQ: Bromyard, Herefordshire
Owned by: family owned
Annual Turnover: £4 million
Principal Products: Specialist spraying equipment for crop protection and pest control including aerial sprayers.