Replacing memory sticks with mobile data transfer technology has saved a Scottish contractor hundreds of hours, and thousands of miles travelling each year. David Williams reports. Crop Services (Scotland) Ltd provides a full agronomy and crop management service to growers across southern Scotland. Set up in 1989 by the Stephen family following a management buyout from Crop Chemicals Ltd, its founder Grant Stephen had been involved with agrochemicals and applications since 1962, when he operated a cab-less Massey Ferguson 35 tractor with a 32ft rear-mounted sprayer and saddle-tanks. Now the fleet of modern spreading and spraying machinery is at the cutting edge of precision farming-based application control, to ensure optimum results. “Of course precision farming was practised hundreds of years ago, by the farmers who put in hedges and fences to divide areas of different soil types,” said director Douglas Stephen. “Walking behind their ploughs they knew every inch of the soil. Then we received grants to rip out hedges and farm larger fields, but then wonder why yields vary when we make
Douglas Stephen runs a large fleet of spreaders and sprayers operated from bases in Kelso and Fife, and equipped for precise applications.
blanket decisions regarding crop health.” The company looks after farmers from the River Tay in Scotland down to the Tyne, and from Fife in East Scotland to Dumfries in the west, from its headquarters at Kelso, Roxburghshire and a depot at Pitscottie, Fife.
Specialist service The company’s core business is providing agronomy advice, and selling and applying agrochemicals and it employs 11 full-time sprayer operators, 7 agronomists, 4 engineers, 20 office and administrative staff and 8 part-time employees.
The sprayer and spreader ﬂeet 3x Kelland A280 Agribuggiestwo with 24m booms and one 28m. 1x Multidrive M380 with interchangeable de-mount Landquip 24m sprayer and Tramspread lime spreading bodies 1x Multidrive M380 with a 36m Landquip demount sprayer 1x Multidrive forward-control F380 with 36m Landquip sprayer and Tramspread spreader de-mount bodies 1x Multidrive M420 with a Bredal K85 de-mount spreader 2x Sands SLC4000 self-propelled 24m and 36m sprayers 2x JCB Fastrac 2170s, with demount 24m sprayers. Three additional tractors and a small fleet of ATVs are operated and a large fleet of trailed and mounted sprayers is available for hire.
The latest wireless data transfer technology is achieving significant time and cost savings for a Scottish Borders-based contractor.
“No one manufacturer supplies everything needed, so we run a variety of makes,” explained Douglas. “The Agribuggies are small and light, especially compared with our larger self-propelled sprayers but, because they are so light footed, they can operate weeks earlier in the spring and longer into the autumn, and sooner after rain. They are fast on the road and easily moved around so work similar hours per season to the bigger machines.” Sprayers and spreaders travel up to 100 miles from bases, and the topography and range of crops means versatility is important. As widths have increased, weight savings have been achieved by fitting alloy booms on the sprayers. This can be as much as 1.5t for 28m booms, compared to steel, and Douglas said that the large area of potato work carried out means even weight distribution between axles is especially important for the soil, and accuracy. Trimble sales engineer James Szabo agreed lighter booms are a benefit. “When large, rear-mounted booms swing they can cause the whole sprayer to yaw, and affect auto-steer systems as these can’t anticipate the movement and can only react to correct the track. Lighter booms affect the vehicle less, making it easier to maintain a precise path.” The first precision farming equipment used by Douglas was a Trimble 150 light bar, for grassland applications, which replaced
unpopular blob markers and, later, Trimble Farm Works iPAQs were used to record locations for soil sampling.
Precision placement Fields were split using grid lines and the first variable rate applications were achieved using Farm Works software to adjust lime application through a Raven controller. “We knew what we wanted to achieve but were largely self-taught explained Douglas. “We obtained specialist advice regarding the hardware and product control and it proved successful. I still see the spade as the most important tool, and the cheapest, and our ethos is that rather than providing customers with a blanket treatment better returns are achieved by putting the product where it is needed. More than 80 per cent of the time a variable rate application achieves better results than a blanket treatment across the field.” Douglas explained that soil acidity is a common problem but easily and cheaply identified and corrected. “This was the primary issue to sort out and results were available quickly after testing. Lime spreading became a major part of our business, and variable rate applications helped achieve continued over...
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