Choosing the correct fertilizer spreader can open up possibilities for the material you spread, and importantly can help you get the job done quickly and efficiently when the application window is right…
I reckon that our broadacre clients typically spend between 4,000 and 11,000 Ksh per hectare on topdressing fertilizer for their cereal crops, be it maize, wheat or barley.
When you consider the value of the fertilizer that we spread each single season, it is often greater than the value of the machine that we use to apply it.
On top of this, there are so many different grades of the fertilizers available to do the same job; different prill sizes and qualities, nitrogen and sulphur blends for example, that can allow savings in time and money – if they can be spread accurately.
Fertilizer Spreader Tip #1: Spreading width
This will normally depend on tramline width, but a high quality material such as Yara’s Amidas or ETG’s Kynoplus will happily spread to over 40 metres. Lower quality Ammonium Sulphate and Urea on the other hand is a much less expensive way of buying sulphur, but will require two passes and the AS will struggle to spread even 12 metres.
Fertilizer Spreader Tip #2: Hopper size
An important consider for larger farms, as the option of buying in bulk 1 ton bags will soon become a reality.
Fertilizer Spreader Tip #3: Auto section shut-off
The smaller the fields and the more short work you have, the more this will pay you back in reducing overlaps and also minimising lodging on the headlands. Everyone talks about the pros and cons of Urea vs CAN fertilizers and volatilization etc. In reality many farmers can improve their efficiency far more by spreading their fertilizer correctly!!! Accurate section control also avoids under-application on the headlands; the largest part of the field.
(Photo courtesy of Bredal Spreaders)
Fertilizer Spreader Tip #4: Weigh cell
On-the-move calibration allows lower quality materials to be used, because even when the density changes the spreader adjusts and still applies the same amount. The real top-end machines have torque-sensing on the disc shafts that detect the amount of fertilizer on the disc and adjusts the position of the fertilizer falling onto the disc to maintain the spread pattern.
Fertilizer Spreader Tip #5: Forced feed
Bredal have a very good forced metering system using a small belt to deliver the fertilizer right onto the discs. Great for slightly variable quality fertiliser where the odd lump or damp bag needs some help to get through the machine evenly.
Tip #6: Isobus
Plug-and-go into the tractor controls is a must for section control and allows variable rate application plans to be fed into the machine – something that the very best performers are already doing.
Tip #7: Fill height
Often forgotten, but making a machine easy to fill can save hours when there is a short window to apply the fertilizer and you are re-filling every 20 minutes. High fill spreaders are great with tractor loaders and handlers, but it is amazing how often you see cracks in the frame where operators drop them right onto the ground to get the hopper low enough.
Tip #8: Maximum spread height
An important consideration for topdressing tall crops such as Sunflowers!
Tip #9: Hydraulic drive
Easy to couple up to the tractor with no PTO, and more precise disc speed and spread pattern over hilly terrain.
Top Tip – our trials are continually highlighting the need to feed wheat and barley early with a small dose of nitrogen, at the 2-3 leaf stage. Unlike much of the advice taken from Northern Europe for example we plant into warm soils with 12 hours of daylight, and tiller numbers are laid down early. For our agronomy clients this has implications for fertilizer strategies, and topdressing capabilities may require a rethink on some farms.
Farming for the future requires a change of approach. Monoculture, soil degradation and climate change and soil degradation are threats to the futureof how we feed the planet. Agventure Ltd set up the Center of Excellence for Crop Rotation to help farmers diversify cropping systems and introduce techniques which have a long-term outlook to improve soil health. The Center of Excellence for Crop Rotation works extensively with Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services Ltd (CropNuts).
Till next time,
David Jones is the Broad Acre Specialist at Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services Ltd. (CROPNUTS). David has a keen interest in soils and no till farming systems where he has undertaken work looking into weed levels and changes in soil structure, and has extensive experience in field trials and in the development of precision farming techniques. In his spare time he enjoys playing rugby.