Smarter spraying leads to study in the UK

Countryman

The 2011 national Syngenta SPRAY (Sustainable, Professional, Responsible Applicator of the Year) Award has been taken out by New South Wales contractor Stuart Jackson.

Stuart, who sprays upwards of 65,000 hectares a year, around Warren, established his business in 2001 and runs it with the help of wife, Roz. His prize includes a $15,000 study tour of the UK, which will be tailored to reflect his areas of interest.

A state finalist in 2010, Stuart took on board the judging panel’s comments to improve his operation and take out the main prize this year.

Lead judge, Syngenta Technical Services Lead Garth Wickson, said the level of consistency among the top five sprayers in this year’s awards program was high and it was tough to separate them.

“They all demonstrated best practice and beyond. Stuart ultimately stood out not only because of the quality of his operation, but because of his exceptional drive to achieve better quality results, ” Mr Wickson said.

Stuart can cover up to 800ha a day with his new rig, and he employs an offsider to drive a 12,000-litre water truck and trailer to each job. His offsider usually mixes the chemicals before Stuart arrives, improving his efficiency and productivity. A self-designed mixing vat and plumbing on the water truck also helps lift efficiency because it allows for mixing product in advance and addition of other chemicals to the tank at different times while it is being filled.

John Shadbolt, who runs a mixed cropping enterprise spread over Nungarin, Mukinbudin, Trayning, Kellerberrin and Tammin, was a SPRAY Awards finalist for WA.

Although he missed out on the top prize, John was a worthy finalist.

Eighteen years ago, John farmed 2600ha of mixed cropping and livestock but modern requirements for increased efficiency and economies of scale mean he now has 11,000ha total crop including wheat, barley and canola. John said it was important that chemicals were used responsibly and efficiently. He also said that while his chemicals cost about $45/ha they were necessary.

“We wouldn’t be able to grow a crop without chemicals because we only have a limited amount of rainfall and we need that moisture to grow the crops rather than wasting it on weed growth, ” John said.

He said the more traditional weed control methods such as cultivation were not viable anymore as you had to save as much moisture as you could. “The size of farms today has increased 10-fold and we’re reliant on sprays to maximise our production, ” he said.

John has a 120-foot Case IH Patriot 4420SP boom spray equipped with an AIM command spraying system to help manage his spraying program. It may be the most expensive machinery item on the farm but it was also the most used piece.

“It’s very functional and allows you to spray from 6km/h to 40km/hr with same nozzles applying the same rate, pressure and droplet size, ” John said.

John said it is important to interchange the chemicals to avoid weeds developing a tolerance to individual herbicides. He uses a combination of pre-emergent sprays with insecticides, along with selective post-emergent herbicides and fungicides later in the season to protect his crop from weeds, pests and disease and ensure his cropping land is as productive as it can be.

“There’s a lot of things we’d like to do but the seasons have dictated our program and made it difficult to rotate crops so we’ve got to be vigilant and try and rotate the chemicals to reduce the likelihood of weed resistance, ” he said.

John uses canola as a cleaning crop in problem weed paddocks but this is the first time in five years the dry seasons have allowed it to be planted. He said awareness of safe chemical use had come a long way since his family started farming 100 years ago.

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