Reviews

Pasture care: Tow and Fert Multi 1200

Being able to treat your stock and soil at the same time is a rarity, but this month Mark Fouhy tested the Tow and Fert Multi 1200 and found a machine that can do just that, with the results speaking for themselves.

I recently caught up with 50:50 sharemilkers Don and Kirsten Watson at ‘Monowai’, their 350ha, 1000-cow property on the Napier-Taupo road on the Rangataiki Plains. These two are certainly experts in their field and are constantly facing environmental challenges on their farm that sits 720m above sea level, experiencing long cold winters, dry summers, and around two metres of annual rainfall.

To ensure their stock and soil remain in good condition, in July 2013 the couple bought a Tow and Fert Multi 1200 from Metalform, which I got a chance to test out. This three-point linkage, tractor-mounted spreader is the ideal machine for ensuring the right amount of minerals are consumed by the cows throughout the year and also helps to drive grass growth rates through autumn/early winter and spring.

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Mixes

You can just about mix and spread whatever you like with the Tow and Fert. For example, you could use the liquid from the effluent as the base to add extra nitrogen, and then add your trace elements, like copper/cobalt/selenium, as required. Don has used ammonium sulphate as his source of nitrogen, along with Progib for grass growth. Along with these he is also adding a custom blend of trace elements, and lime flour for cow health. In addition to these he is also adding humates, a source of carbon. The humates help soils with naturally low organic to hold onto the other nutrients and minerals applied to the plants/soil. In a high rainfall climate, some leaching is almost inevitable, so at Monowai they are doing their best for the farm and soils to mitigate this.

Don worked out his dose rate based on what the cows required in grams/head/day over a 50-day round, and then spreads as weather conditions permit (not too windy or wet). Having his own machine rather than relying on outside contractors has allowed much more timely, regular applications, and has eliminated the need to wait until a whole block is ready to do and then wait for favourable conditions that fit in with a contractor.

It is important to get the mix you are applying right, and one way to ensure you’re getting it right is to monitor the soils and animals. Don and Katrina are monitoring both through herbage/soil testing and blood testing. This year they carried out blood tests part way through calving which showed that all animals had good magnesium levels, none too low. For Don, this is proof the system is working and further proof is the extremely low milk fever incidence over the first eight weeks of calving, only five cows out of a 1000. The animal health improvements, coupled with the extra grass grown and production, in this case the savings/gains to be made through using the Tow and Fert Multi would be enough in the first season to pay for the machine.

Construction

The solid box section and the galvanised frame of the Tow and Fert Multi looks like it should well stand the test of time, even when exposed to a variety of corrosive and abrasive products mixed through the tank. The tank is made of a thick UV resistant plastic, not your standard thin wall spray tank plastic. The top doesn’t have a lid, but is extra high with baffles to allow easy filling and to prevent spillage. The one or two bumps in the paddock we had to work it along meant the tank was well coated in product by the time the swedes were sprayed, so in my opinion a lid would work well. But you don’t want it to get in the way of the bags when filling, or have the closure getting gummed up with dry product mixed with liquid, meaning the lid won’t go on correctly. Everything is connected with cam locks on the Tow and Fert 1200, which means you don’t require a toolbox of tools, hose clamps and joiners. You can check a line, lock it back together, and get back to work. Spare nozzles, hose filter, and a high pressure nozzle are mounted on cam locks at the back of the machine, where you need them, not hidden safely back at the workshop. The single nozzle boom design can spread up to 14 metres, the more solids you have in the tank the better the spread (pattern and distance) you get. Metalform is looking into adding an extra nozzle, like the two trailed models, but it is not quite as easy as just plumbing the extra one and keeping the mix agitated in slurry form.

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Operation

It is basically up to each individual farmer as to what they want to put through their Tow and Fert machine. Don and Katrina put through a variety of products and the only trouble they have had is with a copper product early on, which is not uncommon as I’m sure most farmers have had copper block their vaccinating gun at some stage. Your Tow and Fert comes with a spreadsheet for calculating the spreading speed nozzle to give the desired solid (kilos of nitrogen) or liquid (litres of molasses or chemical) product volume spread per hectare. Don has found this quick and easy to operate. You can also add different products not included on the standard list. The feasibility calculator incorporated in the programme tells you whether you can actually spread the mix at the rate you want. To start and stop spreading/spraying, Metalform has opted for a simple pull string to open and close the valve. They did look at a hydraulically-operated system, but decided to stick with a simple but effective option.

To get the best out of his machine, Don has equipped his Massey Fergusson with Trac Map to give greater accuracy of product placement so as not to double up in some areas while missing others. The optional scales also make mixes accurate, taking the guess work out of each tank fill. Don also opted for the crane extra to save tying up another tractor for loading.

Other options

The Tow and Fert range from Metalform is quite unique, being a combination of a sprayer and solid fertiliser spreader, and the only range of machines I am aware of designed as such. Most sprayers can handle a certain amount of product mixed in, and if you add a liquid fertiliser nozzle for a few hundred dollars, the tank agitation should keep it moving enough to allow you to get the product spread.

Distribution

The Tow and Fert range of machines is currently available exclusively through Metalform in Dannevirke, which designs and manufactures the range, along with other agricultural machines like its tow and mow and collect lines. Being sole distributors it has George Freeman on the road as salesman, dedicated to the Tow and Fert range. He’ll come and demonstrate the machine’s capability on your farm. Not selling through dealers allows Metalform to keep the price down, and your machine can be fitted out to suit your requirements before leaving the factory. If for any reason you have any problems or issues with your machine, you can go back and deal directly with the people who designed the machine. Don and Kirsten have worn out a couple of the brass nozzles but have otherwise had no trouble with their Tow and Fert. Since owning the Tow and Fert, Don says the guys at Metalform have provided great service and have been in contact to check how they are getting on, asking for any feedback and improvements they could make to the machine.

Verdict

Metal From has a unique range of machines in the Tow and Fert range. As fertiliser application regulations become more stringent, I can see the use of small regular applications becoming much more the norm. The fact you can treat animal Tow And Fert Multi 1200 Specshealth issues and your soil in the same pass of the tractor is a real bonus. If you require weed treatment at the same time, this is not a problem either. The Metalform Tow and Fert is another example of New Zealand agriculture innovation keeping us on top of the farming world.

Positives

  • No long boom arms to bend or break
  • Single nozzle to change for different application rates, or replace when it gets worn
  • Solid galvanised tank chassis to handle the abrasive/corrosive nature of some
  • Load cells mounted under tank with clear readout to make sure correct mix is made
  • Monitor is viewable from cab to give a double visual check as to whether a paddock has had its correct amount
  • It has multiple uses, such as sucking and cleaning out water troughs, using the high pressure hose to wash road crossings, or fill water tanks, as well as spraying jobs

Negatives

  • Stirrer cannot be turned off, so tank is always running in agitation mode. Not ideal when using the likes of a penetrant, however the Metal From team are looking at a solution
  • When lowering part bags, the crane extension lowers the bag too close to rear of machine

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Photography: Mark Fouhy

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