15 June 2001

Will two into one really equal a capital saving?

Could replacing a separate fertiliser spreader and sprayer

with one machine make your business more efficient? Farm

manager James Moldon thinks so. Andrew Swallow reports

WHEN the fertiliser spreader and sprayer are due for renewal, replacing the two machines with a single sprayer to do the job of both seems like an obvious way to cut capital costs.

But the main savings are not in the upfront cost of the machine, says James Moldon, manager of 222ha (550 acres) of combinable crops for the Felix Thornley Cobbold Trust at Stanaway Farm, near Otley, Suffolk.

Having sought the advice of Strutt & Parkers Mathew Ward, Mr Moldon has just replaced an 18m pneumatic Amazone spreader and mounted Knight sprayer with a single 24m trailed sprayer.

"We were coming to a point where both machines needed replacing – the Knight was new in 1990 and the Amazon in 93," he says.

Trial commitments on the farm and environmental issues ruled out a cheaper spinning disc spreader, so the business faced paying £5700/year in interest and depreciation for comparable new machines (see table).

For a slightly lower figure, a single machine could be bought to perform both tasks, freeing up both tractor time and labour.

"Now both tasks can be done by one man, with one machine that will go on either of the farms two tractors," says Mr Moldon.

In autumn, that will leave the lighter tractor, a Ford 8350, free to keep drilling. Previously, drilling had to stop if any spraying needed doing, and four hours work was lost switching from drill to mounted sprayer and back again.

"Now the cultivations tractor can go spraying rather than us having to stop the drill," says Mr Moldon. "We cant afford to do that on our heavy soil. The whole system will be much more flexible."

In spring, the opportunity to spray and spread fertiliser at the same time has been forfeited. But in practice that was rarely necessary and greater sprayer capacity means the ground will be covered much faster. The new machine has a 3000-litre tank and 24m booms, compared with 1800 litres and 18m booms before.

"We do the bulk of our spraying at 100 litres/ha, so we will be able to do every field without a fill now," says Mr Moldon. "The sprayer will be supported by a 10,000-litre tank mounted in a grain trailer."

With spraying and spreading now a one-man operation, he reckons he will have more time to manage the farm and trials work. For other growers, a similar switch could bring savings in labour and machinery costs, or present an opportunity to go contracting.

"We would like to do 400-500 acres of contract spraying with it – perhaps all the spraying for another farm. But it wont bust us if we dont get that."

Better application accuracy should improve crop performance, and liquid fertiliser may help nitrogen uptake in some seasons, although scorch is a worry. "We will have to avoid hot or windy weather," he says, "but at least applying liquid fertiliser is more flexible than spraying."

While the detail of the deal struck on the new Knight remains confidential, it does fit into the £25,000/year replacement budget set by the farms board of trustees. "It is not necessarily the cheapest system, says Mr Moldon, "but when you weigh up all the benefits for us, this is definitely the right step to take."

SPRAY/SPREADSAVINGS

&#8226 One-man operation.

&#8226 Less downtime.

&#8226 Better tractor use.

&#8226 More accurate fertiliser?

Cost comparisons


Actual cost (£) Depreciation £/year

24m sprayer* 24,000 7 yrs 3,400

50,000-litre tank: 4,000 20 yrs 200

Interest 28,000 @ 7% 2,000

Total 5,600

Like for like

18m mounted sprayer 15,000 10 yrs 1,500

18m pneumatic spreader 15,000 7 yrs 2,100

Interest 30,000 @ 7% 2,100

Total 5,700

Downgrade

18m mounted sprayer 15,000 10 yrs 1,500

18m spinning disc 5,000 7 yrs 700

Interest 20,000 @ 7% 1,400

Total 3,600

*Nominal cost for calculation purposes. Exact details of deal struck confidential.

Strutt & Parker costings.

Farm manager James Moldon hopes switching to a single machine for spraying and fertiliser spreading will streamline operations at Stanaway Farm, Suffolk.