How Big N revolutionized Aussie cotton industry

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High concentration nitrogen fertiliser Big N revolutionised Australia’s cotton industry – and new innovations keep the changes coming

BIG N trailing a 12-metre wide rig
Modern day BIG N rigs are set up to cover more ground before refilling, with greater precision

Distributed in Australia by Incitec Pivot Fertilisers, Big N fertiliser has helped agriculture make amazing advances in NSW and Queensland since being introduced locally in the late 1960s.

Having worked with the high concentration nitrogen fertiliser for over 30 years, Incitec Pivot Fertilisers field service manager Craig Burke says the 82 per cent nitrogen fertiliser had helped cotton farmers support their highly productive new cropping systems.

"In the early days, BIG N was being applied with open air tractors, with the flow of fertiliser activated by a rope pull," he says.

"We had the metermatic to meter the rate applied, but it was only as accurate as the person using it. Also, the flow used to vary through the heat of the day – it was slower through the cool of the day and flowed more quickly when it got hotter.

"I’d say it would have had an accuracy of about 10 per cent plus or minus the rate shown."

Since then, innovations have included the development of the Trangie Rotaflow, which pushes BIG N evenly to each outlet to ensure an even application to each row being fertilised.

"The Trangie Rotaflow is still highly rated around the world for its accuracy of distributing BIG N evenly across the width of the machine compared with other distributors on the market," Burke says.

"It was a great addition to ensure evenness of application. If growers can’t apply nitrogen evenly across the paddock, it can cost them thousands to millions of dollars."

Another development was the introduction of ColdFlo technology, which was particularly popular with growers using reduced, minimum and zero tillage cultivation systems.

BIG N is released as a liquid at zero pressure and needs to be covered over effectively by the soil on application to avoid losses.

ColdFlo addressed the problem of conventional vapour velocity by supercooling the ammonia to create a high liquid content and lower pressure, which is easier to meter and to retain in a range of soils and application systems.

BIG N application systems have come a long way since early trials with the fertiliser in the 1960s
BIG N application systems have come a long way since early trials with the fertiliser in the 1960s

"ColdFlo came in during the mid 1980s and it meant that you could use BIG N no matter what soil type or soil conditions farmers were dealing with," he says.

In the 1990s growers started adding improved flow control systems, including the Raven flow controller.

"This metered and monitored the flow of BIG N electronically so growers could keep the application rate constant, even if they changed the ground speed," he explains.

"Growers could change rates from the driving position – in their modern tractors – and see and record other information such as the tonnes of BIG N applied, average rate and time until the application tank is empty."


From here, it was a short step to precision and variable rate application technologies.

"Today, growers are striving for a BIG N output that’s within 1 per cent of their target rate across 100 per cent of the paddock," he says.

"Many growers are using yield monitoring and other digital and satellite ag technologies to create variable rate application maps for their BIG N application."

He said growers can integrate their own precision application systems in to their BIG N application system, with John Deere, Trimble and Ag Leader all commonly used.

"Our trained and expert field service staff can cater for most brands of equipment on the market, including tractors, precision agriculture systems, implement manufacturers and soil opener types," Burke says.

"Modern tractors and the latest technology make precision application and variable rate application quite achievable."

He suggested growers take a look at the Raven rate control module, as the next generation in precision application rate control.

This conventional BIG N applicator would have made any grower proud in its day, attached to a John Deere tractor
This conventional BIG N applicator would have made any grower proud in its day, attached to a John Deere tractor

The Raven rate control module uses Raven’s innovative control algorithms to make it the most precise application controller on the market today.

"Alternatively, consider the AccuFlow HP+ system, which includes the new Vortex cooler for even greater capacity and precise application," he says.

Burke suggests growers applying higher rates (more than 90 litres per minute) might want to upgrade to the Vortex super cooling technology for faster application speeds.

He adds that new technologies, innovations and improvements were occurring all the time in the BIG N application space and the best way to find out about potential improvements to your set-up was to contact a BIG N field service representative.

"We are out in the field building equipment to suit different applications every day, offering technical support and advice, so there’s not much we haven’t seen when it comes to BIG N set-up," he said. "We look forward to visiting your farm."

Contact your local BIG N distributor for more information.

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