3 July 1998

Why Jon Cole is

now top of the spraying world…

Winner of the 1998 Farm

Sprayer Operator of the Year

competition is Jon Cole of

Ross-on-Wye, Herefords and

Worcs. Close attention to

detail marked him apart from

fellow finalists. John Allan

explains his strategy

HIGH value crops, tricky field conditions and widely spread farms all make the task of sprayer operator at The Homme, Hom Green, Ross-on-Wye a real challenge.

But it is a challenge Jon Cole more than meets. His meticulous attention to detail and keen desire to minimise downtime secured him top honours in the 1998 Novartis Crop Protection/FARMERS WEEKLY Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year" competition.

Each year Mr Cole covers 6000ha (14,825 acres) with his 1997 Gem Sapphire 2500litre self-propelled sprayer. Crops on the 880ha (2175 acres) farmed by EC Drummond from Hom Green, Ross-on-Wye include winter wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet, peas, spring beans, naked oats, potatoes, winter and spring onions and cauliflowers.

Spraying high value crops in optimum conditions can mean starting as early as 3am. Even at this early hour Mr Cole must be wide awake to cope with the undulating land around Ross. Together with a need for fast, safe spraying throughout the season that has prompted a host of sprayer modifications.

A key change was the 5cm (2in) lowering of the axle height. The 24m (78.73 ft) booms were also modified to 20m (65.6ft) to exploit the greater boom strength of the 24m construction.

Choosing appropriate tyres and pressures for working the sidling land is a challenge. "I like heavy treads for the banks, but you have to balance that against the risk of crop damage," comments Mr Cole. He works with 0.69 bar (10 psi) early in the season for a good footprint and lower ground pressure and 1.04 bar (15psi) for later applications to minimise crop damage.

Wheel changes are fast thanks to a home-made jack that allows front and rear wheels to be swapped in pairs instead of one at a time.

An extra guard rail has been fitted to the boom to protect the triplet nozzle holders from damage by hedgerows when travelling with booms folded.

Reduced operator risk when handling chemicals has been addressed with a Chemlok closed transfer system. But Mr Cole finds it too slow for the high output he requires.

"Closed filling is the sort of thing we want, but we must have an industry standard and enough chemicals to use through it. Industry must make things better."

For accuracy he finds foam marking essential with liquid fertilisers and when spraying onions. But he doesnt want the blobbers in place at all times, so they have quick-release couplings.

Close control over the spraying operation starts with water filling. Having moved to application rates of 125 l/ha (11 gal/acre) for most of the spraying and considering going lower still, accurate water filling is a challenge. Tank sight gauges are notoriously unreliable, especially on sloping land, so a Ponyflow meter is used to ensure the correct dilution and avoid excess spraymix at the end of the job.

At the output end Billericay jets are favoured. Yellow are used for sugar beet, blue for early cereal and pre-emergence sugar beet herbicides, red for later cereal sprays and brown for early blight sprays, with twin outlet Tee-jets used later.

"I feel that with new types of low drift, air inclusion, air assist and other nozzles coming on stream I need help from chemical manufacturers on nozzle choice, otherwise I cant get the best out of their products. At the moment most labels tell me very little."

Speed – usually 8km/hr (4.96 mph) – plus other important factors, are monitored on the RDS Gemtronic controller and recorded with weather, windspeed and other information required by crop protocols and assurance schemes.

Among the constraints, Mr Cole finds no-spray buffer zones one of the more challenging. But a fully marked up farm map in the chemical store and sprayer cab helps him highlight risk areas near river and ditch.

A metal container chemical store and water filling pad is based on the home farm, backed up by satellites at other sites and a second store to simplify the accounting and stock control for one of the share farms. With the chemical readily at hand and a high level water tank sitting above the store, the sprayer can be filled at 187 litres/min (22 gal/min).

Field plans identifying the headland and field area are kept in the cab. These help avoid excess spray mix or the risk of running out before the field is finished. They are also useful when reducing the dose on a headland, allowing the sprayer to be rinsed using the in-built tank-rinse system and sprayed out on the headland with less than a full dose.

Nozzle flow charts are also kept on-board so spray quality can be matched to product need and flow rates checked when the sprayer is calibrated every couple of months.

Over the next five years Mr Cole sees producer obligations becoming steadily more important. Among these, sprayer operators will have to prove their worth by being fully certificated and up-to-date. To this end he is hoping to take a BASIS Crop Management course as well as first-aid and sprayer operator refresher courses.

JON COLE

* Sprayer operator at The Homme,

Ross-on-Wye since 1987.

* Over 6000ha of pesticide and

liquid fertiliser applied each year.

* 880ha of wheat, oilseed rape, sugar

beet peas, beans, naked oats, onions,

cauliflowers and set-aside.

* 2500 litre Gem Sapphire self-

propelled sprayer.

* Great attention to detail and

minimising downtime.

* Good documentation to meet crop

protocol and assurance requirements.

JON COLE

&#8226 Sprayer operator at The Homme, Ross-on-Wye since 1987.

&#8226 Over 6000ha of pesticide and liquid fertiliser applied each year.

&#8226 880ha of wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet peas, beans, naked oats, onions, cauliflowers and set-aside.

&#8226 2500 litre Gem Sapphire self-propelled sprayer.

&#8226 Good documentation to meet crop protocol and assurance requirements.

With 6000ha of spraying to cover every year Jon Cole has his work cut out. Careful planning to make each operation simpler is a key part of his strategy.