When William Miller’s new Bunning Lowlander 105 manure spreader arrived in December 2021, the price of bagged fertiliser was nudging £800/t, which placed even greater significance on accurately spreading his organic manure at the optimum time.
The flexibility to spread his own manure when he needs to, and to guarantee accurate application, are key factors for Cumbrian farmer William Miller changing his approach to buying a simple manure spreader, rather than hiring one for his regular applications.
Mr Miller, who farms in partnership with his wife Emma, bought a second-hand Bunning Lowlander 90 Twin Vertical Auger (TVA) in 2018 after spending the best part of a decade hiring in machines to spread his stockpiled heaps in bulk batches. The machine was a 2012 model and was an ideal way for Mr Miller to begin changing his approach.
“One of the ways I justified buying a spreader was looking at what it cost me to buy and comparing it with the price of a lorry load of fertiliser. When I brought the Lowlander 90, it was the equivalent of two loads of fertiliser. If you produce your own organic manure from livestock, there has never been a better justification to make the most of what you already have.
“We must be doing all we can to reduce the reliance on bagged fertiliser and bought-in feed costs. For grazing land, feeding the grass with the same nutrients in the farmyard manure would be the equivalent to £117/ha (£47.50/ac) in bagged fertiliser. We reseed fields every year to keep our grass in good health and spreading manure accurately across our acreage is vital for this.”
The 145ha High Aketon Farm in Fletchertown, Cumbria, invests wisely in machinery and likes to have control of as many jobs as possible to keep costs fixed, and flexibility at the heart of every operation. The manure is produced from a 400-strong herd of predominately Limousin cattle, that are brought as stores and finished on farm, while there is also a 350-strong flock of Texel ewes.
“The Lowlander 90 was a huge step up in efficiencies and owning a strong and simple to operate spreader allowed me to make little and often applications, targeting specific fields one load at a time. It also meant we stepped away from having peak spreading workloads from stockpiled farmyard manure produced throughout the winter.”
The purchase of the Lowlander 90 was all Mr Miller needed to convince him of the benefits of owning rather than hiring, and in December 2021, the 90 was replaced with a new Bunning Lowlander 105 TVA, supplied by dealer Rickerby.
“At today’s fertiliser price, the cost to upgrade to a new machine was the equivalent to 75% of just one lorry load of bagged fertiliser, and I knew there would never be a better time to justify an upgrade. The Lowlander 90 proved the flexibility benefits of owning our own spreader and we upgraded to improve efficiencies and fit with our machinery policy of buying new equipment and maintaining it well to improve longevity.
“Financially, it looks more attractive to hire as there are small costs a couple of times a year rather than an initial outlay and ongoing maintenance. However, from a field management point of view, our inflexibility to spread when it was right for the crop was causing me concern,” explains Mr Miller.
“I found that by spreading everything during a concentrated window, there were issues with achieving the right application timings for some crops and the knock-on consequences could mean requiring more bought-in fertiliser later in the year.”
The Lowlander 105 has a heavy-duty fully welded construction and uses twin 695mm dynamically balanced augers that feature 10mm thick Boron auger flights. The augers are fed by a full-width slatted floor with 16mm chains, and it has a capacity of 12.6t.
Further benefits of the bigger machine include a heavier duty axle to accommodate the bigger load and an increase of 230mm on the side height to allow the extra carrying capacity.
All Bunning spreaders are available with weigh cell technology, but Mr Miller wanted to maintain the benefits that the simple Lowlander 90 had afforded him. However, the addition of a rear canopy is one extra that has improved accuracy with the new machine.
“At the build stage, I added the sludge kit to help breakdown lumps of bulky material, but the biggest improvement in spreading accuracy has been the addition of a rear canopy, which attaches to the rear of the machine and forces material to be spread by the bottom blades rather than applied from the full length of the auger.”
Bunning offers a rear canopy for farmers spreading dry products such as lime and compost to achieve a positive accurate wider spread. On farmyard manure, the canopy helps to further break down bulky or heavy straw content manure and ensures an even-sized product is applied across the whole field.
“Before the canopy, we would have to put the harrows over the field after spreading to break down the bigger lumps before putting stock back into graze. The rear canopy does an incredible job of delivering a consistent product to the bottom blades.
“We use it nearly all the time now to guarantee consistent application and it allows us to graze the fields very quickly after spreading. It also means we can go further with each load. I also added a wide-angle PTO kit to allow turning on the ends without switching off the PTO drive each time,” says Mr Miller.
The new machine boosted carrying capacity by 1,000kg, but, crucially for Mr Miller, didn’t increase the chassis length, which was a key consideration when operating on the small lanes around his farm.
“If I had gone for the Lowlander 120, it would have added some useful extra capacity but also nearly 300mm in length, which for some of our gateways would have made all the difference. The 105 is the same length as my previous Lowlander 90 but offers extra capacity and will handle our workload comfortably. A good day can see 300t put through the augers.
“I also opted for the narrow body pressing, which uses a narrower axle and reduces the overall width of the spreader by 100mm to 2,820mm, when on 580/70 R38 tyres. This is a big factor in narrow gateways and lanes and can be the difference between swinging straight in or shunting back and forth,” comments Mr Miller.
Application rates vary depending on the crop, but Mr Miller aims for 12t/ha on grazing land and up to 35t/ha on his 50ha of arable land after harvest, but it all depends on what the soil analysis indicates that the land requires to make the most of each load, Mr Miller adds.