EW Bowser & Son Ltd has its base at Leverton near Boston but also has farms in the mid-Lincolnshire Fens and at Hareby in the Lincolnshire Wolds
Having made the decision to replace two sprayers with one new state-of-the-art self-propelled machine, a Lincolnshire farmer says he made the move after careful consideration of the back-up available from the manufacturer and from his local dealer. David Williams visited the 1,600ha (4,000 acre) farm to find out how the new machine is performing.
EW Bowser & Son Ltd has its base at Leverton near Boston but also has farms in the mid-Lincolnshire Fens and at Hareby in the Lincolnshire Wolds, farming up to 2,200ha (5,500 acres) including approximately 1,600ha (4,000 acres) of in-hand land, and additional area rented in each year. Crops include wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet, potatoes, spring barley and a specialist vining pea operation. Most of the in-hand land is in four main blocks, the furthest some 35 miles apart, but some of the rented vining pea land can be further away.
Previously the farm operated 3,800-litre trailed, and 4,000-litre self-propelled sprayers, both equipped with 24m booms. “We enjoyed flexibility with the two sprayers, but the Bowser family has taken the decision in recent years to invest in machines which might cost more but which will offer greater performance and benefits to the farm,” explains farms manager Robert Knight. “We operate one large combine now, fewer but larger tractors, and moving to one high specification sprayer makes sense. Our Wold land is undulating, with some quite steep slopes, but by opting for a sprayer with excellent boom stability and auto-levelling we have been able to move from 24 to 40m tramlines, so have more land available for cropping and can get over much larger areas when the weather allows, without having to travel at higher application speeds which would compromise spray quality.”
The automatic boom levelling copes well with the undulating ground and the boom can be programmed to lift for headland turns reducing the chances of ground contact.
Tank capacitySeveral self-propelled sprayers were considered but eventually the shortlist was reduced to two, both of which were expected to provide the performance needed. “The Amazone Pantera looked excellent, but the early version lacked the tank capacity we needed,” explains Robert. “The new Pantera 4502, launched in late 2013, had many additional features and improvements including a larger 4,500-litre tank, a more powerful 6-cylinder Deutz engine, faster travel speeds and improved plumbing as well as greater ground clearance, all of which would benefit us.”
The latest Pantera has improved plumbing compared to earlier models and filling it with the correct amount of water and chemical is straightforward, says George.
He points out that one problem with moving to the 40m sprayer is that if anything does go wrong, then there are not many contractors to call upon who can spray to that width, so it is essential that the sprayer can be back working within a short time; “We were a little concerned with it being such a new product and, in particular, that there might not be the experience and back-up we would need if anything went wrong. However, the commitment Amazone promised in terms of training our operators and making sure our local dealer staff were fully trained and equipped meant we were confident that support would be there if needed, and we opted for the new Pantera, taking delivery in March,” says Robert.
For the outlying pea and potato land contractors will be called upon when needed. The vining peas are drilled for sequential growth by field to ensure harvesting at optimum ripeness and this means sequential application of crop treatments are needed during the growing season.
“Late April to early June is the busiest time for the sprayer with cereal fungicides, time-critical beet herbicides, late sprays of oilseed rape and the pea sprays to apply, so the outlying pea land is drilled at 24m which means we can use some excellent contractors when our sprayer is needed for other crops,” explains Robert.
Two members of staff operate the sprayer; Neil Bee, who has many years’ spraying experience on the farm, and George Moses, who has been trained by Neil. “We are lucky having two very conscientious sprayer operators,” comments Robert. “We have a busy spray programme and have been keen to encourage the operators to take ‘ownership’ of it. Between them they arrange the spraying and share the operating which is working well. We have chemical stores and water tanks at each of the four main sites, but we are considering investing in a bowser to increase our efficiency and, at times when both users are available, would enable minimal down time for filling.”
Liquid fertiliser is used for most of the crops and the new sprayer has dribble bars fitted for accurate application, and which allow application rates from 50-500 litres/ha without the need to change nozzles. “They provide a stream of fertiliser rather than a mist so minimise scorch, and we can ensure accuracy of application through the automatic section control provided through the RTK system which avoids under or over-dosing,” explains Robert. “We had automatic section control on our previous trailed sprayer, but not on the self-propelled and we quickly saw the benefits it offered over a standard system. We have many fields with curved borders for which the automatic section switching is excellent, making sure the correct dose is applied to every area.
“We also specified auto-steer for the new sprayer, which uses the RTK signal, and this was quite a pricey option, but over the life of the machine we were comfortable with the investment for the benefits it gives us. For tasks such as spraying off ploughed land where there are no tramlines we can still spray precisely making effective and safe use of the herbicides,” he adds, “and the operators can watch what is happening with the sprayer rather than concentrating on steering precisely within the tramlines. It also gives us the possibility of moving to controlled-traffic farming in the future, which is something we might consider.”
FlexibilityA further benefit offered by the farm’s RTK network is that it enables some flexibility to be retained in terms of fertiliser applications; “We prefer to use the liquid fertiliser but have to keep an eye on the price of urea,” explains Robert. “Fertiliser costs are significant and on-farm storage is limited by the size of our tanks, so if prices rise during the season we could be disadvantaged. However, using the RTK guidance on the tractors, if there is enough of a price difference between liquid fertilisers and urea, then we could apply granular fertiliser through our Amazone disc spreader, at 20m travelling between the 40m tramlines if necessary. It allows us to keep our options open and to take advantage if an opportunity occurs.”
George Moses says he enjoys operating the sprayer. “It has some excellent features and we know that when we are using it we are doing a good job. The automatic boom levelling is very effective, and on our sloping land it maintains the correct height above the crops, following the contours well. A great feature is being able to set two heights for the boom, one for spraying and the other for headland turns which means that the boom lifts automatically at the headland reducing the risk of it striking the ground.”
The Pantera is well designed says George, with plenty of handy storage.
“We were worried about the combination of the 40m boom and our steep slopes,” says Robert, “but each side can be lifted independently and it hasn’t been an issue. The suspension is excellent and the boom rides well, even at higher speeds and we generally apply herbicides at approximately 10kph and liquid fertilisers at up to 15kph.”
Lots of features “It has a lot of features, so there was plenty to get used to,” comments George, describing his initial impressions of the sprayer. “It is very different to our previous machine but, considering its extra capabilities, the control systems are actually quite straightforward. I like the main control screen, which is used for most of the setting up, and it also displays the view from the rear camera which, as well as helping during reversing, means I can keep an eye on the nozzles behind the tank too. The main driving controls are all well positioned; it’s easy to drive in the field and on the road. The cab is superb, very comfortable and quiet and the ride is good, even on bumpy ground.
“I sometimes have to drive long distances on the road and the Pantera feels very safe and comfortable at its maximum 50kph travel speed. The axles are hydraulically adjustable from the cab, but the sprayer feels very stable at our usual 1.85m track width so I leave it set at that most of the time.
Some of the land is up to 35 miles distant but the Pantera copes easily with the road work with a travel speed of up to 50kph.
Visibility is excellent, and the camera at the rear means there are no blind spots, so even a cyclist directly behind is clearly seen. There is a proper foot brake, but I haven’t used it as the hand control provides plenty of braking when needed,” he says.
The ease with which the sprayer is filled is something which has impressed George. “Everything needed is within easy reach beside the induction bowl,” he explains, “and there are two groups of controls; one for filling and the other to select the output. The three-inch suction hose fills the large tank quickly and the induction bowl is easy and clean to use with a handy lance for rinsing. Two small LCD screens right beside the filler display the volume of liquid in the main and clean water tanks.”Other features highly rated by George include a storage compartment under the cab at the top of the steps, ideal for protective clothing, and a larger compartment under the front of the cab suitable for tools or containers of chemical.
“We are pleased with our decision to purchase the Pantera,” says Robert. “It allows us to cover larger areas when weather windows are available without having to travel so fast that we compromise our spray quality, and it is very versatile, suiting all our crops and copes well with our sloping land. The ground clearance is very good, which minimises damage to the oilseed rape and the boom section control means we are applying as accurately as possible. The Deutz engine is proving economical too, the electronic management adjusting output constantly to match the need. We have to spray more frequently than we used to, to keep on top of black-grass, including two applications on stale seedbeds before drilling where time allows and without a sprayer capable of getting over the area needed at the required time we wouldn’t be able to control the weed in this way.
“The initial training and support that was provided for our operators by our dealer Pecks AgriTrac and by Amazone was excellent,” he continues. “We have enjoyed a good working relationship with Pecks for many years and the dealer does a good job looking after our tractor fleet, so we are certain that if a problem does occur, despite relying on the single sprayer, we would be back spraying again very quickly.”