FSOOTY 2019 - The Winner's Top Tips
It was third time lucky for Simon Bailey, as he scooped the industry’s coveted spraying trophy to become 2019’s Farm Sprayer Operator Of The Year. Geoff Ashcroft went along for Pro-Operator magazine and EiOperator to see how Simon makes the most of sprayer performance and productivity
After being nominated to enter the FSOOTY competition two years in succession, Simon Bailey decided he really ought to challenge himself and learn something new.
“It’s very easy to become complacent when you do the same thing over and over, and FSOOTY gave me the chance to compare and contrast with other like-minded operators.”
It was this renewed approach that encouraged him to take a detailed look at how his spraying tasks functioned and to look for ways to work smarter, and more efficiently.
As one of two sprayer operators working for Velcourt’s Norman Court Contracting operation, based at West Tytherley, Hants, Simon applies sprays and liquid fertilisers to 2,683ha of combinable crops, along with100ha of game cover and 213ha of grass. That's split between eight landowners, across 12 locations.
Land is spread over 60 miles North-South, and 20 miles East-West, and each season, he covers about 12,000ha extending through Hampshire and Wiltshire. Logistics are planned in advance by the farm manager and foreman, but with constant changes in weather and circumstances, he needs to be flexible, and able to adapt to last minute changes.
“I spend a lot of time working alone, so I have to plan my own logistics and get organised. It’s no good running an hour and 20 minutes to the furthest farm, only to find you’ve left something back at base, that you need,” he says.
“You soon learn to improvise, adapt and overcome. And having everything with you means to can be self-sufficient, but check-lists do help.”
With nine filling sites and 13 liquid fertiliser storage locations, he has to take a pragmatic approach and kit-out his sprayer with as much application-related paraphernalia as possible.
“There’s no guarantee that you can leave something at one site, and it’ll still be there or functioning, when you return,” he says. “So I carry 2in and 3in fill pipes, a raft of spares, measuring jugs, surplus PPE, different water fittings to suit clean water availability, tools and spare nozzles, for example.
“Our fill-sites are practical and functional, with water tanks, hard standing and lockable and bunded chemical stores,” he says. “Inside each store is a shovel, sand, brush, and emergency procedures with contact information, in the event of having to manage any unforeseen incidents.”
He chooses to pre-measure small quantities into multiple jugs, and then contain them in a large plastic basket ready to pour into the induction hopper. He also leaves larger containers in their cardboard boxes – they’re less likely to be accidentally knocked over – and a spill tray is always placed beneath the induction hopper.
“It’s all about being prepared for any eventuality, and reducing the risk. Awareness is everything. And each time I leave a store, it needs to be left in as good a state as if I’m not coming back,” he explains. “There are times when I work my way out of a block of land and simply move on to the next filling location.”
Since winning the 2019 FSOOTY event, Simon has gone up a gear in sprayer performance with the arrival of a Horsch PT280 at Norman Court Contracting. At the time of Pro Operator’s visit, he had still to fully customise the 8,000-litre machine to match the practicality of his outgoing Sands Horizon 5500.
“I’m geared up with the essentials, including a folder stuck to the inside of the cab window to carry labels for each tank mix, which is essential information for the fire brigade and first responders,” he says.
“Although I’ve yet to find time to mount my fill pipes, and I need to incorporate more storage space on the Horsch. The Sands had this one covered when it came to storage space.”
His key modifications include a pop-up spill kit; tyre strings to deal with temporary puncture repairs in remote locations; a short length of pipe carrying clean, spare nozzles; storage containers for dirty nozzles; an extensive tool kit; and two rear view cameras – one for reversing into corners, and one on the right-hand boom to watch the back frame’s four central nozzle bodies.
“The boom-mounted camera is also useful to keep an eye on impatient traffic trying to over-take you. Though it needs a water-jet teeing off from the boom light washer, to help keep the camera clean.
“I’ve already modified the induction hopper’s hose, to carry a multi-spray pattern hose nozzle. It’s much more user-friendly than a single jet of water. And I need an extra set of high-level rear lights and indicators, to help other road users who are thinking of over-taking from a long way back,” he says.
The PT280 joins an existing Leeb LT 6,000-litre trailed sprayer also in use with the farming business, with the arrival of the larger capacity self-propelled a result of Velcourt’s rolling four-year contract hire policy.
Simon is, however, pleased with his previous Sands Horizon and the firm’s back-up. “Four years and 4,800 hours isn’t long, but in that time, the hydrostatic transmission has lost us some productivity.” But, that said, he has high praise for Sands’ smart drive hydrostatic system, which he says is the best hydrostatic drive he has ever experienced.
“Unfortunately, Sands couldn’t offer a large enough tank size in combination with a mechanical transmission, and this is where the PT 280 scores,” he says. “Over the years, we’ve found that going larger means fewer clock hours on a sprayer to carry out the same workload – so our efficiency is continually improving. And that creates better timeliness, and the opportunity for other work.
“With so few flat fields, performance and productivity is also won and lost as much in-field when climbing a steep bank, as it is when travelling, filling and rinsing."
“Travelling such great road distances, we needed a machine that could hold its speed better on the road, to help shorten travel times and also to hold speed in-field on steeper slopes,” he says. “With the extra payload, the Horsch’s mechanical drive is more productive.”
Staying on 32m tramlines, he says the PT280’s 8,000 litre tank is far more practical and has already shown where logistics can be fine-tuned. “You don’t have to fill the big tank, but the larger tank size means fewer fill-ups. It gives me more scope and operational flexibility when mixing for blocks of land, and the size of fields we treat. We visit over 300 fields, which range from 2.5ha to 65ha, and when it comes to part-loads, I now have more logistical options, thanks to a larger spray tank,” he explains.
While the extra performance from the gradual move to larger, more modern kit has paid off in terms of tackling fields, it has perhaps been detriment to operator skills.
With the ability to pump 1,000 litres/min, he says tank filling and agitation is vastly improved on the PT280, and sprayer control affords more thorough mixing, with automatic control of agitation to prevent foaming as tank volumes reduce.
“With a product like Hallmark, at 50ml/ha, you only need four litres in an 8,000-litre tank,” he says. “It’s a short filling time, but tank agitation needs to be effective to ensure a thorough dilution.”
When it comes to nozzles, boom section and technology, the PT280 is using 50cm nozzle spacings, in combination with eight 3m sections and a pair of 2m end sections on both sides of the boom.
Steering guidance and section control comes via Trimble Centrepoint RTX Fast, generating compatibility with the firm’s fleet of Case IH Quadtracs, Pumas and Axial Flow combines. The TMX2050 screen carries field boundaries, and A-B lines imported from Gatekeeper.
This data is then linked to the Horsch Touch 1200 screen for section and rate control.
“Technology is simply a driver aid, and not an auto-pilot system. To get the best out of it, you really need to understand it and work with technology. As for 25cm nozzle spacings, I’ve yet to see a sensible argument with cost-benefits for adopting it. But the boom stability and contour following is seriously impressive on this machine, and I believe there’s some useful benefits to come from auto-nozzle switching.”
“I’ve yet to fully exploit the system, but it will offer the scope to apply using either one of the two nozzles, or both simultaneously – with changes taking place automatically from the cab,” he says.
While most applications are based on 100 litres/ha, he says rates can be slightly tweaked to help balance pressures against forward speeds, particularly on slopes.
“You have to determine what you want to achieve - coverage, or deposition? We are going to trial pre-emergence at 200 litres/ha this year, to see how it suits our situation."
"With two 8m drills putting a lot of seed in the ground, I don’t have a lot of time to maintain accuracy and efficiency with pre-ems, so everything we do has to be right first time.”
“Though the capacity of this new sprayer means we can fine-tune what we do, to get a decent spray pattern at 12-13km/hr, rather than simply chasing headline output figures by going faster,” he adds. “And ultimately, that means doing a better job.”