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German manufacturer offers slurry solutions

Vogelsang built its reputation and its business supplying tanks and transporters for farm liquids

Based in an area where agriculture was dedicated to livestock production until recently, Vogelsang built its reputation and its business supplying tanks and transporters for farm liquids, mainly from wood. Farmers Guide machinery editor David Williams visited the company and met users of some of its products.

This 24m3 slurry tanker is fitted with a Vogelsang 30m dribble bar equipped with CFC section control. It belongs to Tonnies, a contracting company based at Visbek, approximately 50km from Essen. Running 11 tractors and employing 11-16 staff, Tonnies carries out general farm tasks within 30km of its base, and travels up to 80km to apply slurry. It also provides specialist contracting services for vegetable growers for which it travels up to 100km. The company runs three 24m3 slurry tankers, two with 30m booms and dribble bars and the other with a 15m.

Today, employing nearly 550 staff, and with wholly owned subsidiaries in five continents, Vogelsang specialises in manufacturing and supplying products for handling all waste liquids in industry, for treatment of waste water, for railways, agriculture and for biogas plants. In 2012 it started trials with its first cultivation product which was launched in the UK at this year’s Lamma show.

Vogelsang began trading in 1929, manufacturing wooden barrels and wooden milk churns, close to the site of its present headquarters near Essen in north-west Germany. Later, more complex products were developed including washing machines and butter churns and by 1954 the company was celebrating the supply of its 20,000th slurry tanker. During the 1960s new products added to its range included grain drying silos, wooden slurry silos and self-priming pumps developed to fill its wooden slurry tankers, which were facing competition from steel vacuum tankers.

Owner Reinhold Tonnies (pictured) said he charges between 7-8 per cubic metre of slurry applied, and handles approximately 60,000m3 per year. Of the slurry applied, 70 per cent is from biogas plants, the rest from pigs. Reinhold explained that the Vogelsang positive displacement pumps provide significant advantages over vacuum pump systems. “We have used vacuum tankers in the past but feeding a 30m boom with a vacuum tanker system is almost impossible,” he said. “We have a 7,500 litre/min pump on the tanker and efficiency improvements in terms of improved cycle times are significant.”

While steel tanks offered the convenience of vacuum filling, a feature not available on machines constructed from wood, Vogelsang was able to use the material to offer more practical tank shapes. Flatter, lower tanks provided increased stability, a particular advantage in hilly areas, while steel vacuum tanks had to be cylindrical for strength. In 1980 Vogelsang ceased manufacturing wooden tankers, and moved to steel, but with its positive displacement filling pumps it was able to offer thinner bodied and lighter units than were possible with vacuum filling systems.

In the 1980s Vogelsang introduced a range of dribble bars to reduce the environmental impact of slurry application, the smell of which had become a particular issue in the local area due to the intensive livestock production and the amount of slurry being handled, and with new laws introduced in 1985 restricting slurry application to winter months the company offered slurry stores, made from wood, and pump systems which could cope with the mix of liquids and solids.

Applying digestate through a Vogelsang 15m SwingUp dribble bar. The tubes are designed to retain their shape, maintaining equal distance between the outlets for even application.

As more companies started to manufacture slurry tankers the market became less specialised, and Vogelsang ceased manufacturing complete units in 1987, instead specialising in the pumps which it started supplying to other manufacturers, as well as its range of dribble bars.

Vogelsang mixers and pumps maintain the supply to a digester.

Handling slurry today
Whereas farmyard manures used to be viewed as a problem, with applicators seen as a means of disposal, increased costs of artificial fertilisers have meant the benefits offered by the natural product are more widely recognised, leading to the development of more efficient methods of application. In Germany, splash plate applicators are expected to be outlawed, due to the fine droplets created which can be carried long distances by the wind, and because of the uneven application technique which results in over application in some areas. “Dribble bars offer more accurate and even application across the whole width,” explains UK sales manager Sion Williams. “This results in better crop establishment and growth, and reduced smell, so demand for the systems is growing.”

As well as its range of pumps capable of handling slurries, Vogelsang manufactures distributors, which chop the material and meter it accurately between all the distribution pipes, ensuring an even application rate across the whole width of the dribble bar. Two models are available; the DosiMat, which is mounted horizontally and into which slurry is fed from above then distributed through between five and 60 outlets into application tubes beneath, and the ExaCut, with a vertically-mounted rotor, and from which the slurry is distributed through pipes from both sides. Wider applicators will have two or more ExaCut units, one mounted toward the middle of each boom from which the outlets to either side are fed. Both incorporate hydraulic-driven blades which rotate against the distribution screens chopping solids and fibres. The blades are reversible and self-sharpening but it is important to check the working pressure regularly as, if it is too low, then materials will not be chopped effectively. An air pulse system maintains a regular flow and keeps the tubes clear.

(Pictured above left: One of the Tonnies’ slurry tankers undergoing routine maintenance. The ExaCut distributors are easy to service, and can be stripped and checked without removing the units from the machine.)

Dribble bars up to 36m are produced by Vogelsang, for use on slurry tankers and with umbilical cord feed systems, the company claiming to service the premium end of the market, where high design and manufacturing standards ensure a long working life. The company also offers smaller booms from 6 – 18m in its SwingUp range which provides cost-effective application systems for farmers who don’t require the more advanced features of the wider SwingMax range, the booms available through the company’s network of dealers across Germany.

Slurry tanker manufacturers will often produce their own smaller and less complex booms in-house and because of the relatively high cost of transporting the assemblies over long distances, there is a dominance of locally-produced booms in different regions, but many still using Vogelsang pumps and distributors. Larger boom construction is more specialised, and the cost of transport relative to the boom’s purchase price less significant and Vogelsang explains that its wider booms are likely to be seen on farms all over Europe.

The SwingUp dribble bar folded for transport.

One feature of Vogelsang’s dribble bars is the quality of distributor tube used, which Sion explains has a significant effect on accuracy of application; “Most plastic pipe is manufactured on to reels and has a natural tendency to curve in the direction it was manufactured, which remains throughout its working life. This results in the dribble tubes curving so some areas receive double or even triple doses while other areas could be missed altogether. Since cereal crops will only take nutrients from up to 30cm from the plant, this means nutrients could be out of reach. We only use tube which has been manufactured in straight lengths so the spacing between the dribble tube ends is equal which results in slurry applied evenly across the working width.

The company explained that it has been carrying out trials of dribble bars in growing maize, with slurry deposited at the base of the plant allowing application at the appropriate time to suit the crop. Damage to the plant, has proved negligible, even with the dribble tubes at their standard spacing, and the use of dribble bar application is expected to allow increased use of the natural fertiliser later in the season, when at present more artificial fertiliser is applied.

Vogelsang manufactures approximately 250 dribble bars per year of which 20 per cent are exported. The most popular width is 15m which can also apply at 12m making it suitable for 12, 15, 24 and 30m tramlines. Popularity is growing as splash application systems are replaced and Vogelsang sums up the benefits as; the ability to apply slurry even in very windy conditions, even distribution across the width, low ammonia losses, very little smell, reduced dirt on the plant leaf maximising the area available for photosynthesis, and the ability to make best use of the fertiliser available.

Accurate application
With restrictions in place regarding the amount of slurry which can be applied annually, as well as the benefits provided by accurate and even application, Vogelsang has developed section control which allows individual segments of the dribble bar to be switched either manually or using automatic GPS control. Rubber balloons within the outlets of the distributor heads are inflated using pressure from the tractor’s air supply, or from an external compressor, preventing slurry from entering the selected tubes. This is known as the Comfort Flow Control (CFC) and while manually-operated versions have been available for some time, the first with electronic control are now becoming available, with one system being trialled by a UK contractor this year.

Left: Vogelsang’s CFC system fitted to a dribble bar. The rubber socks inside the tubes are connected to the tractor’s air system and can be inflated, stopping the flow from the distributor.

Vacuum versus positive displacement pumps
While many manufactures still use vacuum pumps for their tankers, Vogelsang claims significant advantages for its rotary lobe pumps. “Vacuum pumps are cheaper but take much longer to fill the tank, and their use means a lot of froth is generated on top of the liquid so the tank can’t be filled completely,” says Sion. “This means not all of the tank capacity is usable so more trips are needed to transport the slurry than if a rotary lobe pump is used which provides a complete fill. Rotary lobe pumps are able to self-prime quickly and have much more efficient suction so will empty deep pits as well as coping better with thicker slurries.
“The main advantage is the considerable time and fuel cost saving though,” adds Sion.

Cultivating new areas
There is growing interest in techniques to reduce cultivations and minimise soil disturbance and, at Lamma 2013, Vogelsang showed its XTill strip tillage cultivator, which it says is suitable for all crops cultivated in rows.

The XTill strip tillage cultivator was displayed at Lamma 2013 and was demonstrated to Farmers Guide working in Germany behind a Xerion 3800 incorporating digestate in heavy trash conditions.

At the front a pair of angled openers clear trash and create a shallow channel then an adjustable cultivation arm loosens soil between 10 and 25cm depth creating a seed zone, and two corrugated discs then produce a crumb structure and form a raised furrow. These are followed by a pair of press rollers providing consolidation.

The XTill is available in a basic cultivator form or with a slurry injector which runs behind the cultivator arm on the XTill S version.

Vogelsang international sales manager for agricultural products, Ansgar Jansen explains that the XTill will work in significant amounts of stubble and trash, where other systems might struggle, the leading disk blades clearing trash away from the area to be cultivated ahead of the soil looseners. “The trash is left between the cultivated rows which protects the surface helping preserve moisture and preventing soil erosion which can be a problem in many areas.

“The slurry is injected well below the cultivated area and covered by approximately 10cm of soil. We recommend a period of five days or so between slurry injection and drilling to allow the liquid time to disperse so that it doesn’t affect the seed during germination but is exactly where needed and available to the crop during its growth,” he adds.

For optimal results the seed must be accurately drilled within the cultivated area, and precise guidance systems such as RTK make it easier to ensure the seed is drilled into the prepared zone.

XTill investment well-timed for contractor
Farmers Guide visited a contractor who has recently begun offering a strip tillage and slurry incorporation service for farmers in the North Huemmling region of Germany. Operations are generally within 15km of his base, and eight staff are employed. Eighty per cent of his business is associated with the maize crops in the area. “The very cold weather has held up field operations this spring,” explains Alfons Gerdes (left) of Gerdes contracting. “The ground has been frozen, and with time very limited now, there is considerable pressure to incorporate the slurry and get the crops established as quickly as possible. My first season offering the XTill has been ideally timed to suit the conditions and the system will save time and money carrying out the operations in one pass.”

Alfons has invested 400,000 this year in equipment to handle slurry for clients, a large part of which has been spent on the brand new Claas Xerion with a 17,000-litre tank, the XTill S and a sophisticated built-in slurry loading and handling system which enables it to self-load from supply tankers in just a few minutes, without the need for drivers to leave their cabs.

“There were various options considered but the XTill design looked very good and suitable for the working conditions we encounter which can include long stubble and a lot of trash. We tried one last year and were impressed and we are very pleased with our decision to invest in one. We considered conventional tractors too, but the Xerion was chosen for its suitability for working the silage clamp. We will remove the slurry tank and pumps and fit a blade for which it will be ideal.”

The Xerion’s tank is filled automatically, without the need for the operator to leave his seat using a Vogelsang filling system.

Digging down into the cultivated strips showed clearly the areas of undisturbed soil between the cultivated rows as well as the precise areas of loosening, and below that was the slurry channel, the round bore full of liquid, which spilled out as soon as the spade was inserted. At the time of the visit, slurry was being injected at a rate of 30m3/ha with a further 15m3/ha to be applied later in the growing season through a Vogelsang 15m dribble bar, although Alfons plans also to use some additional artificial fertiliser as a trial. Soil erosion is a major problem in the area and the cover crop, oilseed radish, had left a large amount of trash including long stalks which he explained would have caused problems for other cultivators.

This year the business has approximately 400ha (1,000 acres) of cultivations for the XTill, almost all of which involves injecting digestate from biogas plants. As well as farming 170ha (420 acres) of his own land, Alfons is a shareholder in a 1.8MW biogas plant and runs approximately eight tractors and a fleet of five slurry tankers, between 14 and 24m3 capacities. Four Krone maize harvesters are operated, three with 10-row headers and the other with a 12-row, the maize area to be harvested this year almost 2,500ha (6,200 acres).

XTill availability
The XTill is available in working widths up to 6m and row spacing is adjustable from 45-75cm.  It folds hydraulically for transport to 3m. Vogelsang has 45 of the machines working this season and says its appeal is mainly to contractors offering a high-end service for professional farmers. The soil within the tilled strips is warmer than that surrounding the seed after direct drilling which helps promote earlier emergence, and because the cultivator clears trash so effectively the plant has light and moisture available to help it establish. The other major benefit for farmers in Germany is that with manure having to be incorporated within four hours of application, with the XTill there is no need as it is achieved in the one pass. Usually, two thirds of the manure is incorporated ahead of drilling, the rest applied later through a dribble bar when the crop is growing, explains the company.

German law requires farmers to incorporate manure within four hours of application.

In 2012 fifteen machines were working, all within a day’s drive of the factory so the manufacturer could easily monitor performance but this year units are operating in Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the UK. The XTill is expected to be made available for users in the USA next year, for which the company sees a very large potential market as currently there is a lot of interest in strip-tillage cultivations but no-one is currently offering a system with manure incorporation.
In the UK, one 6m unit is being operated by a contractor this year and a 4m model is available from Vogelsang for demonstration.

AD plants
Germany is generally recognised as leading the way when it comes to generating energy from crops and with approximately 7,800 plants now in operation, demand for fuel crops, as well as for land to use the digestate is growing.

Vogelsang’s experience in manufacturing pumps and macerators has made it an ideal supplier to the AD plant market, and Vogelsang international sales manager for agricultural products Ansgar Jansen estimates that almost every plant in Germany is using at least one piece of equipment produced by the company.

The main components supplied include;
The RotaCut, which is a wet macerator and heavy material separator which removes foreign objects such as stones or metal parts and macerates fibrous and coarse materials.

BioCut, which is a combination of a rotary lobe pump combined with a RotaCut macerator and is designed to accept raw material from bulk tanks or tankers and prepare it for the digester.
The X-Ripper is a twin-shaft shredder designed to deal with organic waste such as fruit and vegetables to optimise fermentation.

QuickMix 2 is a solid matter feeder which mashes the substrate, and incorporates a twin-shaft auger and rotary lobe pump in one unit to break up coarse ingredients and mix them with liquids to form a bio-suspension.

Vogelsang says a major advantage of its components is that their easy and quick servicing minimises downtime with wearing parts exchanged without the component’s removal from the systems. The rotary lobe pumps, for example, can have wearing plates, lobes and the seals replaced in as little as an hour, which means there is minimal disruption to the plant.

Vogelsang UK sales manager Sion Williams is pictured (left) with Vogelsang international sales director for agricultural products, Ansgar Jansen.

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