High-tech spreader boosts efficiency and sustainability

Published on 08 January 2019

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In mid-2017, two North Canterbury neighbours teamed up to buy an AMAZONE ZA-V tractor-mounted fertiliser spreader. Their investment was intended to serve two primary objectives: timeliness of nutrient applications and enhanced environmental sustainability of their operations. The pair are very happy with the way it’s all working out.

Nick and Deanna Ensor milk 600 cows on a 160-hectare platform in the Blythe Valley near Cheviot, with a further 360 hectares of dairy support. Next-door, Mike Norton runs a 125-hectare partly-irrigated dairy support and cropping unit. Mike spent a good deal of time researching the market before settling on the AMAZONE machine: “Technology was the main thing, spread pattern was next, and then price – because there are dearer ones out there. Spread pattern is all about how evenly and accurately it spreads it.”

The ZA-V is capable of spreading widths of up to 36 metres via a Soft Ballistic System at up to 390 kilograms per minute with some very smart mechanicals in the spreading system enabling fine control of application. While the spreader is a 50/50 venture, Nick is by far the bigger user of the machine, being the cow milker of the partnership. For him especially, timeliness of fertiliser applications is increasingly important in maximising pasture production.

The pair suspect the machine has provided savings in terms of reduced fertiliser usage although they cannot quantify that – but they have eliminated the cost of spreading contractors. Importantly, however, in dispensing with contractors lies the even greater advantage of not having to wait until they are available.

Nick Ensor: “If you want to run as efficiently as possible, you need to be applying nitrogen when you want to, and not waiting three or four days for someone to come in and put it on for you. You need to be applying it right in front of the cows or just behind them.

“Being able to do it ourselves is the big gain for us. That was really our main reason for purchasing it.” The timeliness is important for Mike’s dryland crops too. “If there’s rain predicted for Friday, I can get out on Thursday and apply material with the confidence that it’s going to get watered in. That’s a big advantage on dryland.”

“If you want to run as efficiently as possible, you need to be applying nitrogen when you want to, and not waiting three or four days for someone to come in and put it on for you. You need to be applying it right in front of the cows or just behind them.

Both are impressed with the accuracy of placement the machine offers. Both farms get audited periodically, and fertiliser spreading – urea usage and proof of placement – is a big part of those audits. They must have records that show where they’ve put fertiliser and how much went on. “Under irrigation we have a lot of wedge-shaped paddocks which makes accurate spreading awkward, but this machine can sense if it’s going to overlap and can shut itself down,” says Nick.

“Also, when we’re going around creeks we can hit a border-spreading button that stops it spreading material in creeks or on lanes. It just links up with the GPS on the tractor.” When the Ensors were last audited, the assessors were very impressed with the machine because when they had a good look around the creeks they could see the colour changes in the paddocks where the applications stopped.

“So technology-wise, it’s quite advanced compared to what we’ve been used to. It’s been a big step for us. We couldn’t continue operating the way we were and be sustainable. Nor could we run as efficiently as we are now if we hadn’t purchased it.” This is equally important for Mike as he too is irrigating. Both are part of the Cheviot Irrigators Group that focuses on adoption of best farming practices for efficient nutrient and water management.

“And by doing our own spreading when we want to, we can put smaller amounts on more frequently, which is a big plus for the environment rather than having to put bigger amounts on because we were getting too far behind.” Day-to day, the joint ownership presents no issues for the neighbours as mounting the machine on their respective tractors is a breeze and the ISOBUS control and data collection system is simple ‘plug in and go’.

Nick says once the electronics were set up initially, using the machine has become a breeze: “I’m not really into machinery like Mike is and there was a bit to get my head around to begin with but I just find it so easy now. It’s dead simple to operate – when you want to download your data, you just plug in a memory stick and then upload it into the computer at home.”

Their policy is to wash the machine out after every use, which is made easy by the fact that the AMAZONE ZA-V features a deep-pressed one-piece hopper that has no corners, edges or weld seams: “It’s a five-minute job which is nothing.”

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