Aerating grassland at the same time as applying slurry has the potential to boost productivity and cut costs. Nick Fone takes a look at the progress of a prototype umbilical aerator/applicator that’s been working across the north east this year
Grassland machinery specialist and contractor Geoffrey Wox has been trialling a novel hybrid pasture aerator/slurry applicator this year.
Best known for sales of Guttler harrows and serrated Prisma rollers, Mr Wox also runs an umbilical slurry operation across Northumberland that keeps two staff tied up for most of the year.
“Always convinced that there must be easier ways of doing things, I was on a trip out to Iowa last year looking at new pumps and hose-reelers.
“And that’s when the Gen-Till caught my eye.”
Built as part of a collaboration between US firms Genesis Tillage and Bazooka Farmstar slurry equipment, the trailed 6.8m wide Gen-Till combines a bladed grassland slitter with an umbilical slurry system.
Up front, tri-bladed stars arranged a helix pattern penetrate the soil down to 20cm (8in). The aggressiveness of their action is controlled by altering the angle of each of the six axles with a simple pin-and-hole arrangement.
Following the tines are six splash-pan outlets which distribute slurry in a fan pattern at ground level. These are fed by a central macerator and distributor head which connects to the umbilical drag hose via a 4.3m (14ft) swinging-arm.
“We’ve trialled it in a number of different roles this year to see the effect it has on grass, maize and arable crops.
“The benefits of aerating pasture are well known and adding slurry at the same time has produced phenomenal results.
“But where it really excelled was on wheat in the spring. I’ve got to admit the crop looked terrible afterwards – all the young seedlings had been mauled by the hose. But when it came to harvest the customer said it was the best crop he’d ever cut on that ground.”
With the tines cutting slots into the ground, very runny separated slurry and dirty water can be applied at higher rates than normal (up to 90cu m/ha or 8000gals/acre) because run-off is limited.
In addition, root growth and tillering are said to be stimulated by the cutting action and increased nutrient mobility.
And, on cultivated ground, the machine’s angled tines can be used to break down clods to produce a seed-bed rich with nutrients (from the slurry) ready for the following crop of maize, grass or cereal.
Having added a hydraulically-braked 8-stud axle and 540mm wide flotation tyres when the machine first arrived, Mr Wox has had a chance to assess the other areas that need altering before the Gen-Till goes on sale in the UK.
“Here in Britain we tend to ask more of kit than other parts of the world so we need to spec up the machine a little.
“Where we’re often pumping a mix of cow and pig slurry there’s a good chance of foreign objects damaging the macerator, so we’ll be swapping the US unit for a Vogelsang.
“While we’re at it, we’ll probably change from the six low-level splash-pans to a 36-outlet dribble-bar.”
This new arrangement will see vertical plastic pipes aligned directly behind each of the aerator tines so that slurry drops instantly into the rooting zone, maximising nutrient availability while minimising ammonia loss, smells and sward contamination.
Mr Wox is particularly pleased with the extra long swinging hose arm which allows the tractor to turn back on its last bout, but he does have a warning.
“If you’re not careful you can run over the hose which, with all those spikes, can have a disastrous effect.
Coupled up to a 5in drag hose, the Gen-Till needs a minimum of 250hp up front and, as a dead-pull lacking any momentum, also needs plenty of wide rubber and weight for traction.
“We’re looking to move to a Scharmuller ball-hitch carried on the link-arms to improve control over weight transfer,” says Mr Wox.
“With everything set right we aim to run the Gen-Till at 3-5kph shifting about 250-280cu m an hour.”
“It’s got all the benefits of an injector without the high running costs.”
AERATION AND SLURRY APPLICATION – THE BENEFITS
– places slurry direct in the rooting zone
– reduces ammonia loss from slurry
– stimulates root growth
– reduces run-off
– allows higher application rates of runny material
– alleviates surface compaction
– reduces dependence on artificial fertiliser in arable crops
– limits smells
– faster and lower cost than an injector