Plenty of pressure on spreader manufacturers

By: Andrew Hobbs

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Duelling demands are putting new pressures on spreader manufacturers, but the proverbial hasn’t hit the fan just yet. Andrew Hobbs finds out more

Higher capacity but able to spread more products – today’s spreader buyers want it all. Getty Images
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There are plenty of old adages that apply when it comes to fertilisers, and probably the truest is that classic of big spenders – that you have to spend money to make money.

Traditionally mixed in with the seed as it is distributed into the paddock and accompanied with a few prayers about rainfall, wind conditions and prices, fertilisers are typically one of a farmer’s biggest capital outlays.

In days gone by a farmer would spread the same amount of fertiliser widely across a paddock, whether they were using three-point linkage spreader, designed specifically for granular fertilisers such as urea, or a more general-purpose trailed spreader.

But the rise of yield mapping and other precision agriculture practices has led to a change in what farmers now expect their spreaders to be able to do and the area they are expected to cover.

Consultant Peter Piddington has been working with spreaders for over 30 years, and now works with South African company Rovic Leers – advising it about manufacturing for the Australian and New Zealand markets.

He says the Australian market is unique globally, because of the fairly new expectation that most spreaders deliver material accurately to a width of at least 36m, now within the guidelines of the Accu-Spread testing scheme offered by the Australian Fertiliser Services Association and Fertilizer Australia (SIC).

"The thing that is driving that spreading width is the width of the booms for spraying chemicals and so forth," he says, adding that the wider booms are designed for the larger size of a typical Australian farm.

"It is really following that controlled traffic situation where you have the tractor and the implement behind set up to run in tramlines – so you have to have equipment to spread efficiently to whatever the desired width is."

This in turn leads buyers of new spreaders to seek out models with ever higher capacity – with Piddington saying many prefer to be able to refill the spreader at the same time they refill their tractor with fuel.

This is a disadvantage to three-point linkage spreaders, he says, because their potential size is limited by the capacity of the tractor to carry it using the three-point connection.

Yet Piddington says that the sophisticated spreading technology of a linkage spreader is difficult to replicate in trailed spreaders, largely because the latter is designed to spread a variety of materials.

"The trailed spreader is designed to take lots of different material, whereas a linkage spreader is designed around granular materials, whether it be urea or a single strength phosphate or whatever, but they won’t handle the gypsums and the limes," he says.

Today, farmers also expect their spreaders to offer sectional control and be able to spread at a variable rate, Piddington says, adding that both trailed and linkage spreaders are being designed with this ability.  

"If you are accurately putting your fertiliser on and you are only feeding it with as much as it needs, you are using a lot less fertiliser," he says.

"We used to put a lot of fertiliser in with the seed; now we are basically putting enough fertiliser in to get the seed up and we are relying on agronomists to tell us whatever else we need – so we are actually top dressing while the crop is growing, which is not what we were doing 20 years ago.

"As technology increases, the cost of spreaders is going up and that may ultimately detract from buying a spreader that would only do granular materials, because it is very expensive for a single purpose machine," he says. 

"But the linkage machines are pretty smart machines – I don’t see demand dropping." 

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