Worth the weight?

21 March 2014

Could it be? Something like a ‘normal’ spring? Well, so far so good. Drilling, spraying and fertilising all fully underway and getting up to date. It’s fair to say if you haven’t got your fungicide protectant on yet it’s too late and playing catch up is the only way forward.

While there’s a need to get on, the internet is alive with photos of sprayers in difficulties and up and down the country. Generally sprayers are getting heaver:  in the 1980s Claude Culpin’s book Farm Machinery stated that a self-propelled sprayer can embody low ground pressure for reduced soil damage and high clearance for reduced crop damage. In the 1990s a typical self-propelled sprayer weighed 4 tonnes, with a 3,000 litre tank bringing the weight up to 7 tonnes. Today, sprayers weigh well over 11 tonnes with a 5,000 litre tank bringing the weight up to at least 16 tonnes. Tyre technology has come on leaps and bounds but the contact area has not kept pace with the increase in weight.

The result? See the photo. To be fair the field was top-downed so the sprayer has sunk to the cultivation’s depth.  A 4,000 litre sprayer weighing close to 15 tonnes passed through here.

Impact Of Heavy Machinery , March 2014

So, what’s the solution? Wider-tyres? Not really at this growth stage. Small/lighter sprayer? Possibly, but the reduction in daily capacity would be unacceptable, although perhaps negated by having water/chemical nearby or serviced with a bowser. Going trailed? Certainly an extra axle, even if not driven, helps with overall weight distribution. There is easily as much technology available on a modern trailed sprayer, with potentially a faster road speed, better brakes and normally higher comfort which all adds up to give the trailed sprayer worth a second look. Downsides are of course it ties up a tractor you may have readily and it’s not quite as manoeuvrable. But hey, at least you’ll not get into trouble from the combine driver come harvest!

On the Monitor Farm front, a couple of us went along to Robert Atkinson’s farm near Doncaster to have a look at some 1/3 hectare strip trials of wheat. The photo below shows the difference in vigour between a standard and hybrid variety. All drilled on the same day with the Claydon and treated in same throughout. The greener hybrid wheat on the left shows more potential but the proof of the pudding will be at harvest when these plots are taken for yield.

Strip Trials Of Wheat At Robert Atkinson 's Farm - Hybrid Left , Standard Right

Robert is a strong advocate of minimum tillage, using a Claydon drill, in one pass if at all possible. Being a Monitor Farm has allowed Robert to look at his machinery costs with much greater detail, costing not only his kit but the cost of its use in a variety of situations. This all gives Robert a better idea of whether an operation is really needed, knowing full well that the cost of the operation will have to be added to the cost of growing the crop.

More details to follow on this later in the year . . . The photo below shows Robert being interviewed by Allan Stennett for the Radio Lincolnshire Farming Programme.  All in a day’s work for a Monitor Farmer.

Robert Being Interviewed By Allan Stennett For Radio Lincolnshire Farming Programme

A diary date for you:

Protecting your Profit comes to Lincoln on 2 April. This is the third in a series of four workshops we have been running across the country, in which you can hear about the importance of knowing your cost of production and understanding the vagaries of the world grain markets.  It’s easy to think that the harvest in Brazil has no effect on your bottom line, but it does. And if you can get a heads up on the biggest influencers in the grain markets then you can decide when to sell, rather that feeling you need to cut your losses. . . .Again!

To book, just visit cereals/ahdb.org.uk/events

Last but not least, it goes without saying that the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds is your service. So I urge you to fill in the ‘Have your Say’ questionnaire. We really do read everything put down good or bad and use it to guide our direction for the coming years.

So, take a few minutes and keep us on track: /research/have-your-say.aspx

See you soon, Harry.



Based at Ashkam Bryan near York, Harry grew up on a beef farm in his native north Wales. Subsequently, Harry developed an interest in farm machinery that took him around the world working in agriculture. Having managed a plant breeding farm near Cambridge for Monsanto, in 2005 Harry joined John Deere as Crop Systems Specialist, from where he was recruited by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.