Why risk all on a rank
There is a bewildering choice of proven sprayers, from tractor-mounted to self-propelled units, available to UK farmers. So why did Welsh cereal grower Maurice Jones opt for a relatively unknown machine from Italy? Andrew Faulkner reports
BUYING the first version of anything means taking a risk.
Whether that decision relates to the latest hi-tech offering from a car manufacturer or just a change from the familys favourite brand of pork pie makes little difference.
The dilemma is the same: Will the untried and untested match up to what has gone before? Buying unproven farm machinery carries a similar risk. So why do it?
"Sometimes the benefits of what is new simply outweigh the risks," says Maurice Jones, who farms a mixed livestock/arable holding at Court Calmore, Montgomery, Powys. The Jones family partnership runs 600ha (1500 acres) split between five separate units.
Earlier this year Mr Jones bought the first £50,000 Frazier 7B self-propelled sprayer, which is imported by the Yorks-based firm from Italian manufacturer Barigelli (Machinery, Apr 7). He saw pictures of the machine at Smithfield 94, and decided to buy the sprayer after a fact-finding trip to Italy to see it at work.
Although it is new in the UK, the sprayers components, such as the Iveco engine, are all established names. So we knew we would get good back-up," he says.
The 7B is not the first unproven product to arrive at Court Calmore. Mr Jones was one of the first buyers of the US-built John Deere 7000 series tractors when they made their UK debut in 1992; he also owns one of the early Merlo telescopic handlers.
"As long as there are strong names behind a relatively unknown machine, I am not worried about buying it. For example, the Merlo uses proven hydrostatic components and Perkins engines. Most manufacturers recognise there will be teething problems, and being an early buyer you often get special treatment."
Reassuring though an established name may be, big names have still been known to build "trouble". The traditional argument goes something like: "If it is going to be a problem machine, I would rather somebody else found it out first."
So, with a specialist sprayer market packed with established machines, why opt for a UK unknown?
To understand Mr Jones decision, a look at his shopping list helps: A 20m (66ft) wide air sleeve boom, a 2000-litre plus (440gal) tank, low centre of gravity and safe braking for hill work, and a pleasant operator environment were all priorities.
The outgoing machine was a five-year-old, tractor-mounted Degania air sleeve sprayer, which explains Mr Jones enthusiasm for air assistance technology.
"We had no complaints with the Degania; it allowed us to reduce water volumes, cut chemical rates by about a third and gave no problems. Air assistance has to be the right way to go, both on agronomic and environmental grounds."
The decision to replace the Degania was prompted by an upgrade of the farms 3m (10ft) wide drill to a 4m Accord/Maschio combination unit; 20m tramlines give a better match, he says.
But merely stipulating a 20m air sleeve boom does little to restrict choice. Nor does a preference to move away from the restrictions of a tractor linkage-mounted sprayer. That still leaves a plethora of trailed, demount and self-propelled options.
The trailed route was immediately dismissed. Use of trailed equipment is avoided, when possible, at Court Calmore because of the sloping ground – crabbing and sliding are all too familiar problems. So only the demount and self-propelled options remain.
Court Calmore already runs a 150hp JCB Fastrac 155-65, hence the obvious move would have been to opt for one of the many demount units available for the Staffs-built tractor.
Although a self-confessed Fastrac enthusiast, Mr Jones reckoned the tractor had insufficient underbelly clearance for late-spraying and too high a centre of gravity for hill work.
Fast travel speed
"We use a Fastrac for hauling 14t trailers, a 15t Samson muckspreader and top dressing all the grassland with an Amazone ZA-M spreader. Its fast travel speed has increased our top dressing work rates by 50%, but I dont think it is the right machine for our hilly cereal ground."
Conclusion of this decision- making process: The need for a lightweight, self-propelled unit capable of safe operation on steep gradients that could handle a fertiliser spreader as well as a sprayer.
"We ended up with the Barigelli by a process of elimination. Most other hydrostatic self-propelled machines are designed for high clearance work on flat or gently sloping ground in rape and beans – crops we dont grow. Whereas this machine is designed specifically to treat cereal crops grown on steep inclines," Mr Jones explains.
The 7B comes with all the customary refinements – RDS spray controller, five-section controls and fast-fill pump – but where it differs from the conventional is in its method of power transmission from engine to wheel.
Rather than the more common hydrostatic pump to four wheel motor supply, the Barigelli pump sends oil to a single motor mounted on the sprayers rear axle. Hydraulic drive is then converted to mechanical, two- or four-wheel-drive through a two-speed transmission, transfer box and mechanical shafts.
According to Mr Jones, this combination of hydrostatic power through mechanical gearboxes and axles, makes the outfit ideal for hill work.
"It combines the benefits of both systems – the hydrostatics infinitely variable ground speed with the mechanical axles differential lock and disc brake. When working on these slopes it is comforting to have a brake pedal in front of you."
So has Mr Jones initial risk paid off? He readily admits that the expected teething problems have arisen. In-cab noise is disappointingly high, the pump needs further modification to improve road speeds and he suspects ride on the low ground pressure tyres would benefit from a change in spec. Frazier is modifying the machine to answer all three criticisms.
"It may have been the first model in the country, but it was and still is the right machine for this farm." Mr Jones says the decision was worth the risk. *
• Farm size: 600ha (1500 acres).
• Soil type: Ranges from medium to heavy clay loam.
• Cropping: 100ha (250 acres) of winter wheat, 49ha (120 acres) of winter barley, 20ha (50 acres) of winter oats and 20ha (50 acres) of spring barley. Remainder in grass, maize and set-aside.
• Stock: 400 dairy cows (and followers) and 1000 breeding ewes.
• Labour: Eight plus Maurice Jones and brother, Robert.
• Mainline machinery: Eight John Deere tractors (45-150hp), John Deere 1177 combine fitted with 4.5m (15ft) wide header, and Merlo P30.7EV and FDI Sambron T2045 telescopic handlers.
Maurice Jones specification
• Engine: 122hp Iveco diesel.
• Transmission: Part hydrostatic/part mechanical.
• Tank size: 2300 litres (505gal).
• Boom: 20m (66ft) wide air sleeve.
• Controls: RDS Delta 3 spray controller.
• Tyres: LGP – 400×17.5 fronts, 600×26.5 rears.
Rowcrop – 9.5R28 fronts,
• Retail price: £49,900.
Probably the flattest field on the farm. Maurice Jones main reason for buying this Frazier 7B self-propelled sprayer was to cope with the farms predominantly hilly land. The family grows 490 acres of cereals.
The uncluttered cabin floor accommodates two pedals: A brake and the sprayers on/off control.
Maurice Jones: "Im not worried about buying an unknown machine, as long as its built from proven components."