Upgrading to a sprayer with a larger tank and wider booms is an obvious means of improving work capacity but an innovative pump system fitted to its latest sprayer is providing significant time savings and added convenience on a Norfolk farm. David Williams reports.
Tim Dixon has been manager at Bixley Farms near Norwich for 11 years. Farming 1,300ha of arable crops including wheat, barley, peas, oilseed rape, sugar beet, potatoes and mint, the farm is owned by the Colman family.
As for other professional farms a priority is constantly improving accuracy of pesticide and fertiliser application while optimising work rates to make the most of available weather windows. Tim uses the latest technology with JDLink telematics and wireless data transfer to aid efficiency and as well as using RTK guidance and automatic steering across much of his tractor fleet, he was an early adopter of John Deere’s Field Connect weather and soil moisture monitoring system and has recently upgraded to Pessl instruments which he uses primarily to make sound judgments as to when, and how much, irrigation is needed.
Busy spray schedule
The farm’s sprayer works approximately 1,000 hours per year carrying out all pesticide applications and applying most of the fertiliser, although later in the growing season fertiliser application switches from liquid to granules through a disc spreader to avoid a clash in demand for the machine.
A John Deere R4040i self-propelled sprayer with a 4,000-litre tank and 36m booms was delivered in January this year as a direct replacement for the previous 5-year-old 5430i. “We didn’t look at alternatives,” explained Tim. “The 5430i was very reliable and performed well and we have a lot of faith in John Deere products, and back-up from our local dealer Ben Burgess is unbeatable. The only time our last sprayer had an issue, putting it out of action, a loan machine was delivered the same day. Our last was bought with John Deere’s PowerGard 5-year service and warranty package but, because it was so reliable and the cost of PowerGard is now much higher, we decided to do without it on the new machine.”
Faster and more accurate
The new sprayer has the same tank capacity and boom width as its predecessor but along with a host of general improvements the biggest difference is PowrSpray which uses two high capacity centrifugal pumps instead of traditional piston pumps, and separate liquid circuits for filling and spraying.
“The previous sprayer was good but the new model’s faster filling gives us more spraying time,” explained Tim. “It also has Direct Rate Control which uses the hydraulic-driven centrifugal spray pump to supply the necessary spray rate and pressure and adjusts from minimum flow to maximum 1,000 litres/min in just 3 seconds improving accuracy of our variable application, particularly for liquid fertiliser. With conventional pressure control the mechanical valve of our previous sprayer took up to 19 seconds to adjust across its full range of movement, by which time after a headland turn we might have been 20m down the field.
“Rapid adjustment is also a benefit working up to diagonal field edges where it quickly adjusts to maintain the set rate when any number of the twelve, 3m sections are switched on or off. We can see on the control screen that each time a rate change is needed it’s achieved almost instantly.”
Tim said that improved rate accuracy combined with section control makes a significant difference. “The 5430i sprayer was our first with section control and as soon as we started using it we noticed significant water and chemical savings. Where before we had it, for a 10ha field we had to allow enough liquid for the equivalent of 10.5ha; but with section control we could reduce this by the equivalent of 0.4ha or 4 per cent. We know that the new sprayer’s instant rate adjustment improves accuracy even further so every part of the field receives exactly what is planned, even for high volume, variable-rate application of fertilisers between 270–410-litres/ha.”
Ease of operation
PowrSpray incorporates additional features making it easier to fill. “It’s so easy to fill the sprayer now, whether it’s with fertiliser or pesticides,” enthused main operator Tom Maitland. “There is a second display down by the induction bowl which is easy to see in any light conditions and decent size buttons are easy to use wearing gloves and provide fool-proof selection of various modes.”
Tom says Active Pause is especially useful, allowing the operator to pause tank filling while maintaining clean water flow at the chemical inductor, and providing as much time as necessary to check and add chemicals. “Even with the lower fill speed of the previous model, with multiple chemicals to add it was sometimes a ‘race’ to get them in to the bowl and rinse the cans before the tank was full. With the new sprayer filling twice as fast at up to 1,200-litres/min, I would have had even less time to do everything properly. Active Pause reduces the likelihood of making mistakes and whereas previously when mixing thick, sticky or foaming liquids or powders there was temptation to start adding them with minimal water in the tank, now I’ve got all the time needed and it’s less stressful.”
Another improvement is the new conical induction hopper with no ledges or corners for powders to lodge. “It rinses from around the edge of the rim rather than using high pressure jets so there is less vapour and powder dust in the air, and the bowl is always thoroughly clean.”
Although total volume information can be sent direct from the farm office to the operator screen wirelessly, it’s not currently possible to detail the required chemical mix. “It can be sent to the in-cab 2630 screen,” commented Tim, “but it would be a help if it could also be sent direct to the operator station for reference during filling. By the time the operator has climbed up into the cab, copied the instructions onto a notepad and replaced his protective clothing this has not only wasted time, but also increased the risk of an error.”
The 1,200-litre/min maximum filling rate means less than 5 minutes is needed to load the sprayer with liquid fertiliser. “Previously I had my lunch while the tank filled but now it’s so quick it’s not even worth getting back in the cab,” said Tom. “It’s not just me that notices the difference though as the high volume pumps require only very low engine revs making filling much quieter. Like many farms our spray shed is beside the workshop and previously the engine ran at 1,900 revs for 10–15 minutes which was noisy for the other farm staff. Now only 1,300 revs are needed so it’s much quieter and for a shorter time, saving fuel as well as wear and tear.”
Tom said the latest sprayer is easier and less tiring to drive. “Because the spray pump doesn’t need high engine revs the only consideration during spraying is that there is enough power for slopes, so on level fields it’s quieter and saves fuel.”
Auto Agitation is also a benefit of the PowrSpray system, adjusting intensity depending on the volume of liquid remaining to reduce foaming. Agitation can also be set to stop completely when a preset volume remains to ensure complete emptying. Because the pump operates independent of engine speed, agitation can also be used during travel to the field once the machine is off public roads and there is also an extreme agitation mode suitable for re-mixing sedimented powders, for example, after a break due to weather.
Because the water filling circuit is never in contact with spray liquid the plumbing is very simple and residual fluid volumes are 45 per cent lower than a conventional system. With Air Rinse also fitted – air from the on-board compressor is available to push out any dregs, reducing residual contents further still, and with water from the clean water tank for the final rinse, very little additional cleaning is needed. “It’s reassuring knowing that when a tank wash has been completed it’s almost completely clean and after using air to purge the rinse water from the booms there is little chance of contamination. We still do full tank washes, particularly between sensitive crops, but this system gives added confidence,” stressed Tim.
“The efficient circulation system also improves performance when starting off. Previously, patches of weeds could remain where chemical hadn’t quite reached the nozzles as a field was started but with the new sprayer delivery of chemical to the nozzles is instant.”
Because the filling circuit doesn’t contact the chemical, the pump can also fill the clean water tank. A level sensor monitors the contents, alerting the driver when it runs low and automatically stops the filling process when the required level is reached. Tom said this avoids spillages in the spray shed caused by overfilling which was a risk with hosepipe filling previously.
A second corner post display for general working data on the new sprayer leaves the main 2630 screen free for sprayer control and guidance, and to interact with Gatekeeper sending and accepting job data. “The new smaller display isn’t something the operator looks at very often but it’s easy to see at a glance if something is wrong,” explained Tom.
Additional improvements include relocation of the indicator stalk to the steering column, and availability of four wheel steering in any gear – provided travel speed is low enough. “Previously gear one or two had to be selected making it difficult to turn from the road in to narrow field entrances in heavy traffic. Now it’s simpler and safer as there is no need to stop and change gear first.
“I’d say it’s almost the perfect sprayer now,” he added. “The boom travels exceptionally well with John Deere’s latest TerrainCommand Pro which constantly monitors and adjusts the three sections to ensure accurate terrain following. We have some reasonable slopes but with each section capable of positive and negative angle adjustment maintaining the ideal nozzle height is no problem.
“PowrSpray is a great feature saving time in the yard and making the sprayer easier to use. Working up to an angled headland when only 6m of the boom remains spraying, it’s interesting to watch the display and see how quickly and easily the pump adjusts as the width reduces or increases. With the lower operating noise and fuel use too, it’s a great addition.”
Ben Burgess sprayer specialist Mark Cann looks after the farm’s R4040i and said PowrSpray is proving popular. “Although it’s new on self-propelled it’s been an option for trailed machines for nearly four years. We supplied and look after two of the first three sold in the UK and the PowrSpray systems have been totally trouble-free. Operators appreciate the added ease of use and the significant fuel savings available for both self-propelled and trailed models. Plus there is the added benefit of reduced maintenance, as the centrifugal pumps need no servicing whereas most conventional piston pumps require new diaphragms to be fitted each year. The first machine we supplied with PowrSpray has recently been updated, and the owner had no hesitation in specifying another with the same system.”
Like many other John Deere machines, Bixley Farm’s sprayer has JDLink making it easier for the manufacturer and dealer to keep track of service requirements, remotely diagnose problems, supply software updates and provide operator assistance. “If problems occur I might still have to visit the farm but I will already have a good idea as to the cause of the problem and can go equipped with the necessary tools and parts which all helps reduce downtime,” he added.