Manure spreader essential for soil improvements

The purchase of a Bunning Lowlander 120 TVA manure spreader is playing a vital role on a well-known mixed farm in the Scottish borders that is seeing improved soil health helped by timely manure applications.

Robert Neill has been farming at Upper Nisbet, Jedburgh, for 23 years, and is certain that running a traditional mixed farm, with the livestock and arable enterprises working in tandem, has contributed to rising yields and soil health improvements across the farm.

Robert will be familiar to many farmers across the country as the current chairman of AgriScot and he explains where the farm was when he took over. “We wanted to improve soil health and structure across the acreage and ultimately reduce reliance on artificial fertiliser applications. Organic manure offers the fibrous content that a bagged fertiliser can’t, and we wanted to make the most of it by spreading on a regular basis.”

The farm extends to 690ha of which 400ha is down to arable crops including winter barley, winter wheat, spring barley and spring beans, with 120ha of grassland. Alongside this, there is a herd of 350 Limousin x Friesian suckler cows, with a total head of cattle rising to over 1,000. These are all bedded solely on the straw provided by the arable cropping area, which, after the cows have used it, is then reapplied to the fields by a 2019 Bunning Lowlander 120 TVA (Twin Vertical Auger) manure spreader. As there is no slurry produced on the farm, the spreader is an integral part of the system.

“We operate a traditional mixed enterprise with the arable and livestock parts dovetailing to help the other out. The value of straw is greater once it has been used by a cow as it has increased nutritional value and is easier to break down. All jobs are carried out in house, and it means we have total control over what we do and when.”

Buying over hiring

Until a few years ago, Robert would hire a Bunning Lowlander manure spreader from his uncle’s contracting business near Lauder. However, this arrangement came to an end in 2018 when his uncle sold the contracting business. This led Robert, along with his brother who runs a dairy farm 18 miles away, to purchase two identical Bunning Lowlander 120 TVA machines that arrived in 2019.

With an estimated 3,000t per year to spread on his farm alone, Robert views the Lowlander 120 as the right size for the farm, offering good output in a small wheelbase and a light footprint, helping to limit compaction, allowing spreading to happen at the right time.

He says: “We have always liked the Bunning spreaders for being well built and their ability to break down the manure during spreading. They will also spread well-rotted manure to a consistent spread width of 10-12m. Owning the spreader has allowed us to have greater control over the works and means we can fit spreading in around other jobs, rather than save it all up for the short window of hiring.”

Purchasing the two machines together has allowed the two farms to run the spreaders in tandem when required and means output can be doubled across a day and the loader operator isn’t sat waiting at the manure heap. Second-hand value was also a key consideration during the purchase and Robert is confident that a Bunning machine will hold its value longer and the cost to change will be smaller.

Robert’s Lowlander 120 TVA is a standard machine and operated by any of the three John Deere tractors, a 6155R, 6215R or a 6250R. Extras extended to air brakes, an additional steel PTO guard that helps prevent the tractor’s link arms damaging the PTO when turning, and a small stand made by Bunning to make connecting the PTO to the tractor easier.

Additional flexibility

Across the 20 years of hiring Bunning spreaders, Robert never had any issues with machines and praised their reliability. Since he has owned one, regular maintenance has been carried out before and after use to prolong the lifespan of components, while the auger tips on the beaters are still the original ones that were fitted to the spreader and are now entering their fourth season.

Additional work through hiring to local farmers to spread their own manure has been secured since the Bunning Lowlander arrived, and Robert ensures the floor chains are at the correct tension and the machine is well greased before it leaves the farm.

“Fresh straw bedding being spread straight from the pen has a tendency to bridge but we’ve never experienced anything like this with the Bunning machines we’ve used.”

Owning the spreader has also allowed smaller jobs to be undertaken, such as clearing feeding areas in fields to allow the soil and grass to recover quicker. This is a simple job, but one that might not have tied-in with hiring in a machine.

Soil sampling

As soil indices across the farm have improved through regular applications, the benefits of owning the Lowlander 120 has allowed specific fields to receive manure at the correct time to increase soil nutrient levels. “We’ve had the manure tested so we know exactly what we are applying. Suckler cows don’t produce the high nutrient value manure as dairy or finishing cows as the inputs aren’t as high. However, the fibrous content and additional nutrients still offer us a valuable product.”

Along with the manure, the soils on the farm are tested every four years and this information can be used to adjust application rates for areas requiring greater inputs. “We are targeting a quarter of the arable area per year with manure, mainly behind winter barley as it allows us a bit of extra time to spread after harvest and the winter barley land will be ploughed before the next crop. We have increased yields of spring barley from 2.5t/ha, when I first arrived, to over 7t/ha last season. This isn’t all down to applying the cow manure, but it has certainly had a positive impact.”

One option Robert says would have been useful in hindsight is weigh cells as it would allow the farm to keep track of tonnages and increase spreading accuracy and records, especially as there are spreading restrictions due to Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. “All our tractors have Isobus and we are operating precision farming techniques, so weigh cells would have fitted in well to our setup, however, we can’t have everything and the 120 TVA fits the needs of our farm well.” concludes Robert.