Champion sprayer operator builds ‘Rolls-Royce’ of fill-up areas

© Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

Just 30 minutes inland from the Jurassic coast in Dorset, Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year John Martin’s pesticide application set-up is far from prehistoric, having adopted modern methods to ensure minimal environmental impact.

Mr Martin’s 320ha family-owned farm – situated at Milbourne St Andrew, between Blandford Forum and Dorchester – is in an Environment Agency class 1 water protection zone.

The protection zone includes the surface waters flowing to the Poole estuary – where pollution has been a problem – and a nearby underground drinking water source.

John Martin’s winning spray operation

Fendt 930 + trailed 36m triple fold Chafer Sentry 4000 equipped with:

  • Dual nozzle bodies – triple outlet + liquid fertiliser dribble bars
  • Full GPS auto-section control with air shut-off
  • Auto boom levelling.

Mr Martin says: “The extra investment in a self-propelled isn’t worth it for us when we can get the same output for half the money.”

Point-source pollution from sprayer filling areas and farmyards remains the largest contributor to pesticide pollution, estimated to be between 40% and 50%.

Taking these factors on board, Mr Martin has invested heavily in a state-of-the-art sprayer fill-up area capable of dealing with large amounts of contaminated waste water generated by his spraying operation.

A 18x16m single-span shed sits above a 13x16m concrete pad that is bunded to a depth of 125mm, capable of containing 18,000 litres.

Underneath the pad sits a 3,000-litre holding tank, putting the total capacity of the fill-up area at 21,000 litres.

Mr Martin – who carries out all the spraying on the farm’s cereal, oilseed and pulse crops – says it is something he has been planning for some time.

His location, in a high-risk catchment area, has access to grant aid from Catchment Sensitive Farming to install pollution mitigation methods.

What the judges liked

Robinson,-TomTom Robinson
Independent spraying consultant
“The big standout feature of John’s spray operation is what he’s doing environmentally.

“He has accepted that he’s in a high-risk catchment and done all he can to minimise pollution risk – it is as comprehensive a waste management system as I have seen.

“But that only accounts for a small proportion of the points awarded by judges.

“John is an outstanding candidate on all aspects of pesticide application, he does all the small things well and is a worthy winner.”

“At the moment there’s a carrot there and these measures are likely to become compulsory in the future, so we went ahead with the project with the help of a £10,000 grant.

“If you are a dairy farmer, you invest in a good dairy, and as an arable farmer, you should invest in the best grain storage and sprayer fill-up area,” he explains.


Washings go through a bio-filter – a series of soil-, compost- and straw-filled 1,000-litre cubes that remove and break down pesticide contaminants.

The water is then clean enough to run straight down the drain.

Most bio-filters have just three cubes, but Mr Martin’s is more thorough with six.

His daughter has just completed her degree dissertation project on the advantages and effectiveness of the system.

The project attracted the attention of Wessex Water, which paid for testing of the filtered water, with particular focus on key herbicides metazachlor, mecoprop-P and triclopyr – all problem actives in the surrounding catchment.

“If there is a problem in the catchment and the Environment Agency turns up, we can say that we are doing all we can to prevent any accidents,” says Mr Martin.“We wanted a bio-bed, but they aren’t permitted in a class 1 protection zone, so we built the bio-filter. It only cost about £2,000 and can deal with 15,000 litres/year.

In addition to pollution mitigation installations, a steel container spray store within the shed gives easy and safe access to chemicals.

Adjacent to the shed sits 160cu m of liquid fertiliser storage within a pipe’s length of the fill-up area.

“The shed is also big enough to fold out one boom section, so you can fill up and work around the sprayer without any drips from the folded booms above,” says Mr Martin.

© Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

Buffer zones

Home-made sprayer modifications

  • Cab-controlled tank rinse system
  • GPS receiver mounted above boom for accuracy
  • Insecticide storage box
  • PPE box (on tractor front linkage)
  • Pressure gauge in front of cab
  • Spares box – all new fixtures and fittings
  • Spill kit
  • Whiteboard next to induction hopper

All the farm’s fields are surrounded by 5m temporary grass margins, which satisfy all aquatic buffer zone requirements against watercourses.

However, some labels – particularly insecticides – have a requirement for a 5m or 6m arthropod buffer zone around field margins to protect non-target insects.

As many insecticides are tank-mixed with fungicides or herbicides, Mr Martin has modified his sprayer to ease the logistics of satisfying the buffer requirements.

“I have storage on the sprayer for insecticides, so I can spray around the headland with the other components of the tank mix, add the insecticide and spray the rest of the field as normal,” he says.

Mr Martin says: “With the flick of a switch in the cab, the rinsing system uses the liquid fertiliser pump to put clean water into the top of the tank to rinse out the sprayer while on the move.

“If things are a faff, they sometimes don’t get done, so this has made washing out much easier.”

Nozzle choices

Pre-emergence herbicides 03 Syngenta Defy
Post-emergence grassweed herbicides 03 Syngenta Defy
Fungicides 03 Hypro Guardian Air induction
  04 Hypro Twin Guardian Air induction
  05 Hypro Guardian Air induction

Mr Martin says: “For fungicides I use a 04 twin outlet air induction nozzle for better coverage and penetration, but they are a little more drifty than some.

“In windier conditions I’ll switch to single outlet 03 or 05s. If it’s too windy for 05s, you shouldn’t be spraying.”

Top spraying tips

  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it safe
  • Use whiteboards

John says: “I have whiteboards dotted around the store, fill-up area and next to the induction hopper on the sprayer.

“I record stock expiry dates, tank mixes with rates when filling, and on the sprayer whiteboard I write down the last and current tank mix being applied to avoid crop safety or antagonism issues.

“I’ve also recorded the GPS settings in case the system needs resetting. We can all make mistakes and it helps minimise those mistakes.

“I also clip the label from all products I’m applying to a sheet containing all emergency contact numbers and procedures, so if an accident happens the person who finds me knows what to do.”

Syngenta’s Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year competition searches for the best in class for pesticide application. Entrants are comprehensively grilled on all practical, regulatory, safety and environmental aspects of using plant protection products effectively and responsibly.