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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Friday, 27 January 2012

A Day of Calibrations


Last Monday, our two main applicators of expensive oil-based chemical and nutrient products came under the spot light. Our Sands Sprayer had its National Sprayer Testing Scheme MOT and our Amazone Fertiliser Spreader was tested for its efficiency when applying granular products.
These two important exercises happen each year for the sprayer, under government recommendation, and every other year for the fertiliser spreader, which is for our peace of mind and for the odd crop inspector that comes on the farm. The machines have to be kept in top working order to pass both the tests and we have to keep the records of the tests, otherwise our farm would not pass our Crop Assurance Scheme which is the standard of crop production that we must maintain in order to sell our grain to all the different food markets in the country that are open to us. (More information can be found at the CMi website www.nsf-cmi.com)
The Sprayer test is really important, as it is a full MOT such as your car goes through. Everything is tested from road worthiness and safety to the water carrying components and the application parts of the sprayer. The trained tester has a 50 point test which he works through on arrival at the farm. He inspects the ins and outs of the sprayer but the really important part is the calibration of how much and how accurately the sprayer applies the chemical/water mix onto the crop. The tester fills the sprayer with water and runs the motor to do pressure tests on the pump, checking that it is running at the correct 3bar. He then checks a few other places along the water line to make sure the pressure is constant. If it is not constant then he will investigate the reasons: possibly dirt in the pipes or a blocked filter. However, our pressure tests were all constant.

He then does jug tests on a set number of nozzles along the sprayer boom. Our boom is 24m wide and has a spray nozzle every half metre and there are 3 types of nozzles attached to the boom for different applications. He runs the sprayer and holds a jug under a single nozzle for a minute. He then measures how much water comes out and records the amount. The amounts should be what the manufacture of the nozzle states should be delivered from that type of nozzle, at a set pressure. If the amount is not what is stated, then the nozzle is either blocked or has become worn. A nozzle is made of plastic normally, so with water and chemical particles being pushed through each of them, they do wear and the size of hole increases and therefore more chemical/water is applied to the field, which is not what we want.
Our sprayer passed with flying colours. We only had a precautionary note that one set of nozzles was starting to wear but Nick our sprayer operator was already aware of this and was going to ask if we could replace them.
The Spreader test is a pattern test for us, the farmers. Uniform nutrient application is vitally important as we need to have the small granules of fertiliser applied evenly over the whole field otherwise we will have uneven crop growth. Also, if over-application occurs, it can mean that high levels of fertiliser can leach into the watercourses causing algae blooms that have a knock-on effect on wildlife and drinking water quality. It’s also not very economical for us to buy all this expensive fertiliser and not know where it is all going. We have to be so accurate now because all granules that miss the target area on the field are wasted pound coins!
The test involves a quick check of the spreader and the PTO speed, so that all is in working order. Then a bag of fertiliser is put into the hopper and the spreader is ready for the test. The tester places a tray on the ground every metre for the whole 24m and the next 6m each side. These trays have baffles in them, so when the granules hit a tray they do not bounce out. The spreader is driven through at full operating speed and rate and the trays catch the fertiliser. Then the trays are poured into a set of tubes which are all fixed together. The results indicate the distribution of the fertiliser over the full width. What we want to see is a flat level across the whole width. This will mean that the pattern is uniform over the whole area, which is good for us. If one side was higher or lower then the machine is not set up right or the discs spinning the granules out are worn. As you can see from our pattern, it is very uniform and so we are confident that all our expensive plant food is covering the fields evenly whenever we are out applying the Nitrogen, Potassium or Potash. 
These calibrations are good exercises for us farmers as it reaffirms that we are applying everything as accurately as possible, so that our natural environment is protected from bad practice and badly looked after machinery. 87% of all Sprayers in the Country are tested yearly and many more Spreaders are tested privately by farmers, as they want to know where the money is ending up. The two tests cost us a total of £380 which is nothing considering we spend over £180,000 a year on oil based nutrients and agrichemicals!! BWB


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