Like many other heavy land arable farmers in the eastern region, the Galloway family faces a constant fight against black-grass and having the right kit to apply microgranules for maximum efficacy is essential. David Williams visited the farm.
Galloway Farms is based near Epping in Essex and along with 100ha of owned land, the family manages 400ha of nearby land on a whole farm contract basis and provides a regular contract combine harvesting service on a further 300ha and spraying on an additional 100ha. It also offers a general contracting service within a 30-mile radius and has become known as a specialist in microgranule applications.
“Much of the land we farm is challenging clay although our own fields are probably the worst being predominantly heavy London clay,” explained partner Tim Galloway who runs the business with his brother Alistair and father Stuart. “We have some easier land too, but part of the challenge each season is soil type variability over small distances which means we encounter different conditions across individual fields and variations in crop development through the season. However, one thing all the land has in common is that it is highly susceptible to black-grass.”
As well as using cultural methods such as later drilling to help reduce grass weed populations, Tim Galloway uses Avadex (triallate) – applied through a boom-type pneumatic applicator. For many years this was pulled behind a conventional ATV but as the area to be treated each season increased the heavy work started causing problems with reliability and took its toll on operators. “In some ways the ATV was ideal,” explained Tim. “The ATV’s wheeltrack was narrow compared to the trailed spreader so land was run on only once which helped reduce compaction. But when our heavy soils are wet pulling the spreader is very hard work and when they are dry hard clods are formed. These can be quite large and because the ATV was very light it didn’t crush them, so its wheels were fighting for traction as it struggled to climb over them. This meant a rough ride for the user and aching shoulders from fighting the steering.”
The micro-granule applicators chosen by Tim were manufactured by Techneat. One was a mounted model installed in the rear of a low ground pressure pick-up truck and the other came on a trailed low ground pressure chassis for use with the ATV. Both are 12m versions, driven by small petrol engines and both have automatic application rate control using precise speed information from an integrated GPS receiver.
“We used one applicator originally and applied throughout autumn but advice from agronomists regarding best time to apply provides a shorter weather window and with many farms drilling cereals later this also put the single applicator under severe time pressure. Running two means we cope easily with the 2,900ha of application each year including 2,000ha in the autumn and the rest in the spring.”
The trailed applicator has suspended booms allowing faster working speeds than the farm’s previous model. “In a dry season the hard, cloddy ground results in a rough ride and the booms broke quite frequently,” explained Tim. “With suspension; the ride is better, stresses are reduced and we can apply at up to 12–13kph.”
The right machine
With a growing area requiring treatment and the applicators capable of faster working speeds the decision was made to replace the ATV with a larger UTV. “We had looked previously at options including several diesel-engined models from reputable manufacturers but they were unacceptably noisy, under-powered, too heavy and too expensive. So we approached the local Can-Am dealer RW Crawford which already supplied our Challenger and Fendt tractors to find out what they had available.
“We borrowed a Traxter DPS HD8 model for an extended demonstration half-way through our 2018 autumn applications, and were impressed. We have some land which is very steep and which had caused the ATV to struggle so we took the Traxter there with the applicator knowing that if it coped with that it would do anything else needed with ease. It proved very capable and the powerful 800cc, 2-cyl petrol engine had tremendous torque and the automatic transmission adjusted to make the most of the engine’s capability.
“The ride was comfortable and the engine was quieter than the diesel UTVs we tried, even when pulling hard. The fuel consumption was lower than expected too, although work rates were significantly higher than the ATV we had been using or any of the diesels tested.”
Another advantage that the demonstration Traxter offered over the ATV was a cab. “It gave weather protection and we felt it also gave additional protection against chemicals over and above our protective clothing, rather than being completely exposed, particularly after each headland turn.”
A price for the demonstration machine was agreed and it took over from the ATV towing the Avadex applicator for the rest of the autumn.
An immediate increase in productivity was noted, resulting from the higher working speed and also the Traxter’s ability to carry additional sacks of chemical in the rear load bed. “We work closely with Harlow Agricultural Merchants monitoring results of research into black-grass control and believe using the Traxter and trailed applicator provides added flexibility not available when applying as part of other field operations,” explained Tim. “It requires an extra person which many farms don’t have, but using our service ensures Avadex is applied at the optimum time at an affordable price.”
Although application rate adjusts according to speed information from the Techneat applicator’s GPS receiver, Tim felt that added precision was needed for cost and environmental reasons. “We use TopCon guidance and steering systems on other farm machinery and bought a second-hand steering motor and receiver which was installed on the Traxter. We have our own base station giving coverage across almost all the land we look after, and have an excellent relationship with the equipment provider which mans we can access an RTK signal anywhere else needed. This gives precision within 10cm for bout matching and works well in conjunction with our TopCon X30 display which is shared now between our combine and the UTV.
“We used it this spring for the first time to ensure accurate switching at the headland and it’s amazing what a difference it made. We not only use less chemical through reduced double dosing but because there are no misses either it’s noticeable that there are fewer small patches of weed to spread later into the crop. To be honest if a contractor came to me and offered a service applying a costly chemical but didn’t have the means to apply it precisely I wouldn’t be impressed, so this is where we wanted to offer the quality of service we would expect ourselves.”
Another modification to the Traxter was adding optional full doors this spring. “Previously the sides were open and in dry conditions the footwells became full of dust. The doors prevent this and give added weather protection but the electric windows, which we considered a gimmick at first, have turned out to be a valuable feature. It’s great being able to open the window on the far side to allow air flow through the cab, and shut it again at the touch of a switch without having to stop to do it manually.’
With its GPS-guidance and generous load capacity the Traxter will also apply slug pellets this autumn if needed, as oilseed rape is being brought back into the rotation after a three-year break. It has also proved useful for general farm transport. “It’s ideal for field checks or to transport tools and parts out to machines in the field and the low ground pressure tyres allow travel almost anywhere without causing damage. It reduces our use of the farm pick-up which is a benefit as that isn’t the sort of vehicle we really want travelling on our compaction-sensitive land.
Since delivery the Traxter has completed 350 hours during which time it has been completely reliable. “It’s under warranty so we will use RW Crawford to carry out main services when the engineers visit for other machines,” added Tim. “Day to day maintenance is easily carried out, although there are a surprisingly large number of grease nipples on the steering and suspension.”
Happy with decision
“We compromised on weight when we moved from the ATV to the Traxter UTV,” commented Alistair, “But it’s proved a successful decision resulting in increased productivity which allows more timely application, and makes the job more comfortable during long working days. Having considered and tried diesel alternatives, opting for the petrol model was the right decision. We have the capacity for additional work in our local area and believe the flexible timing and precise application we offer is just what growers need as part of the fight against these problem weeds.”