Brothers Peter and Richard Burbage have been farming together for over 25 years and in that time have built up a wealth of knowledge and experience. Over the last 14 years they have bred their own cattle, resulting in a herd of 220 cows, with the aim of 400 cows by 2021. As a result of this, the farm currently produces 3,500 tonnes of liquid slurry, a mixture of manure and water which is an effective natural fertiliser.
The ability for the farm to create its own natural fertiliser is fantastic for efficiency, cost saving and the environment. However, the process of applying this slurry to the ground was not effective at all, causing the business to lose up to 75% of the nutrients in the soil through inefficient targeting and volatilisation, wasting this valuable by-product. As a result of this, the Burbage brothers decided to complete extensive research on how they could get the most out of this product, researching different spreading techniques and manure sensors.
The ability to be able to choose from so many different systems is largely down to the ever-growing sector of agri-tech. Agri-tech is the use of technology in agriculture to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability. This tech has been a turning point in agriculture, allowing farmers to review their practices and improve, in the case of the Burbage brothers, the ability to review multiple types of fertiliser applicators to choose one that works best for their land and farm. This is proof that agri-tech is not futuristic – it’s happening now.
The previous equipment, which used a splash plate application system which placed the slurry on the top of the soil, can result in up to 80% of the available nitrogen applied in the slurry being lost to the atmosphere in the form of ammonium. The brothers were also unable to monitor the direct application of each area of the field, as the application was a blanket application. The final decision was to go ahead with a fertiliser spreader that incorporates weigh cells, section control and auto shut off. This new system results in the reduction of waste, reduced costs and environmental savings through less run off, lower CO2 emissions and greater diversity. This technology works by placing liquid directly beneath the surface and ensures that nutrient value is retained with the aid of a trailing shoe which creates a small slit for the absorption of liquid.
As a result of this LEADER programme-funded project, Peter speaks about how the comparison with the previous system is night and day and there is not a bad thing to say about this newly implemented system. Subsequently, the business has seen a substantial growth in its efficiency, saving time, labour and fuel. To fill the previous tanker it would take 10 to 20 minutes, now they can achieve the same volume in 2 minutes. The tanker now has a rate that can achieve 80 cubic metres of slurry spreading an hour and an auto flow setting that slows in sync to the tractor. This massive increase in productivity has cut the labour by half, allowing them to spread up to 1,000 tonnes a day.
This is not the only benefit of the LEADER programme-funded spreader; the farm can now use the products they have in a most efficient way using the tech on the new equipment. Slurry as a product has a massive variant in nutrients. The new product has the tech to be able to analyse the slurry in real time when applying and then link to the computer on the tractor to address and adjust the levels as per the previous soil maps. This ensures the correct amount is used on every hectare, leading to greater nitrogen efficiency and reduced leachate. This tech also automatically keeps a full detailed documentation of all slurries and fertilisers applied to each area allowing for a greater review of soil and agriculture that will be fundamental in the future of farming.
The farm has seen such a positive outcome as a result of these new systems that they have exceeded all targets estimated for the LEADER programme funding and the brothers are enthusiastic to share this knowledge with other farmers to improve practices.