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FSOOTY six face final challenge – Summer ’20 edition

Lead picture Cereals 2020

As if reaching the FSOOTY final isn’t a big enough challenge, this year’s six finalists also had to contend with being judged from a distance. But which one will win the coveted trophy in this most unusual year?

FSOOTY has been cancelled just once in 36 years – that was in the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis. This year, however, despite unprecedented social distancing measures, the competition continues, with the six finalists judged remotely using video conferencing technology.

“I must congratulate all the finalists for the way in which they coped with the extraordinary circumstances,” says Scott Cockburn, FSOOTY judge and Syngenta applications specialist. “A FSOOTY final is a tough challenge in itself, but to answer questions and take the judges on a virtual tour of their operations must have made it even more difficult. Well done to all,” he says.

Like all sprayer operators, however, the finalists are no strangers to using technology, with two already employing pulse width modulation (PWM) on their machines.

FSOOTY, however, isn’t about the latest, biggest and brightest equipment or purpose-built facilities. Over the years it has been credited with lifting standards across the industry by highlighting best practice

All six finalists demonstrate how good organisation, attention to detail and focusing on doing things properly improves application accuracy, while protecting the operator and the environment. Sometimes it’s the simplest tips and tricks that can have the biggest impacts.

The winner will be announced at 12.30pm on Wednesday 10th June on the Cereals Live 2020 virtual  event.

Meet the finalists

Peter Dennis

Peter Dennis – Sentry, Tenterden, Kent

Peter Dennis is the only entrant in this year’s line-up who has reached the finals before. A sprayer operator since the 1980s, he works for Sentry carrying out all the spraying at R Sternberg Farms in Kent. Here he’s responsible for applications on about 1,200ha of arable crops with a 24m, Househam Merlin with 4,000-litre tank.

“Every year I think I will enter again. This year I managed to get round to it and I’m pleased to reach the final again,” he says. “I really enjoy the process; it is very interesting and it’s a great way to learn more and meet like-minded people.”

Peter admits one of his tips is something he picked up from the last time he was in the finals. This is to regularly remove the nozzles from the section behind the sprayer – the ones you can’t see – and replace them with ones from the end of boom. “This helps keep them clean, allow you to see the patterns and if any are blocked,” he explains. “I also always mark the contents of part-used cans.”

He has also noted not only the exact areas of all the fields, but also the headlands. “So, if I’m asked to spray just these I know the right amount to put in the tank.  Also, when filling I always lay the products out in the correct filling sequence – it prevents the risk of making a mistake.”

checking nozzles
Matt Fuller FSOOTY 2020 finalist

Matt Fuller – Heathcote Farms, Toddington, Beds

Four years ago, after finishing university, Matt Fuller joined Heathcote Farms in Toddington, Beds where he is now the main sprayer operator. Since then he has taken his BASIS qualification and entered FSOOTY to further his education and application knowledge.

Matt operates a 4,000-litre, Bateman RB35 with 32m wide VG boom. It is one of the first in the UK to be equipped with Capstan Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), which became the subject of his BASIS project.

“We have run Batemans before and the manager involved me in the decision to invest in the PWM. We saw the main benefits are the chemical savings from the improved accuracy from individual nozzle control as well as the turn compensation. We are aware of the under- and over-applying on sweeping corners and do have a lot of pylons to contend with,” he explains.

While he does mark poles and pylons with reflective tape to see them easier in the dark, his top tip is to keep on learning! “I did my BASIS course because I wanted to learn more. I see the crops more than anyone else so I was keen to be able to spot problems and report back. But to do that I needed to know what I was looking for and when.

“I feel it’s important to keep up to date by attending training courses and seminars – anything that increases my knowledge is worthwhile,” he adds.

Matt Fuller PWM
Luke Haynes FSOOTY finalist 2020

Luke Haynes, The Montreal Estate, Kent

A sprayer operator for just five years, Luke Haynes, has recently completed his BASIS qualification and entered FSOOTY to further increase his knowledge.

Luke is responsible for all the spraying at The Montreal Estate, Sevenoaks, Kent. He treats 400ha of land with a 4,000-litre Bateman RB 35 with 24m booms equipped with Hypro DuoReact twin nozzles. He also carries out a further 300ha of contracting.

“I was encouraged to enter FSOOTY by a previous winner, Stuart Woods, and feel it’s a good opportunity to expand my knowledge. I enjoy working with the agronomist and have been delegated the job of looking after the game cover to increase my experience,” he says.

When it comes to applications, Luke likes to keep things well organised, and concentrates on doing the basics well, with thorough preparation. This includes laying out the products of the tank mix in the order they go in.

“My main tip is if you have RTK accuracy, put in the tramlines with the sprayer. It will always travel much better, with less mess and reduce the risk of run-off. It also means they are always in the best place to suit the spraying,” he adds.

Luke is responsible for keeping the records up to date on Gatekeeper software. All his recommendations come to him via an App, which he can synch via WiFi in the yard as well as print out for paper records.

Luke Hayes Tramlines
Steven Keal FSOOTY finalist 2020

Steven Keal – Thelveton Farms, Diss

Shortly after Steven Keal moved to Thelveton Farms, Diss the business replaced its previous 24m machine with a new 5,000-litre, Agrifac Condor with a 36m wide boom fitted with Pulse Width Modulation (PWM).

He uses this to treat 1,440ha of combinable, as well as contract potatoes and finds the PWM’s single nozzle control and turn compensation has greatly improved accuracy leading to significant savings. “We now also put in the tramlines using RTK on the sprayer, which also increases precision,” he adds.

Steven says he is fortunate that soon after joining the farm, it invested in a new spray store and filling area. The drive-through building is fully bunded and equipped to a high standard, with the chemical store and water on one side and liquid fertiliser on the other. “I simply drive in one way or the other, depending on what I am applying,” he adds.

In the chemical store Steven has organised the metal shelving using a using a ‘traffic light system’, which he says makes it much easier to manage for himself, others and a particularly helpful delivery driver. “Some of the cans now look very similar, so this way we know they are always in the right place. We use red for herbicides, yellow for fungicides and green for PGR, insecticides and adjuvants. The delivery guy even unloads them in the correct place,” he explains.

Steven has also recently completed his BASIS foundation.

Steven Keal chemical store
Michael Knight FSOOTY finalist 2020

Michael Knight – AJ Middleton, Pytchley, Kettering

Michael Knight, who works for AJ Middleton Agricultural Contractors, Pytchley, Kettering says he was quite surprised to make it to the finals on his first attempt.

“I really wasn’t expecting to make it to the shortlist on my first go,” he says. “I have been a sprayer operator for 35 years and entered because I like to keep up to date and felt it was a good opportunity to increase my knowledge.”

Michael operates a new Sands Horizon 5,500 litre capacity, that brought a move up to a 36m wide boom, replacing a 24m Vision 4000. He uses this to treat 1,600ha of crops including winter and spring wheat, oilseed rape, beans, spring barley and linseed.

With contracting he covers about 12,000ha/year operating across land in a radius of about 12 miles from his base. “At the main farm we have a purpose-built chemical store and filling area, equipped with a biofilter. The outlying farms have their own water supplies and chemical stores, filling areas and spill kits.”

His top tip is as simple as it is effective. “I’ve cut a notch in the normal plastic cap spanner so it also fits over the larger ones,” he laughs. “I’m pretty fussy about cleanliness and use the tap behind the pressure filter to isolate the lines full of clean water so if there is any residue it won’t dry out. Then I flush the lines with clean water before I start again.”

Michael Knight chemical store
Tristan Newens FSOOTY finalist 2020

Tristan Newens – Windmill Down Farm, Petersfield, Hampshire

Tristan Newens reckons to spend about 850hrs/year spraying 6,500ha of crops from his base at Windmill Down Farm, Petersfield, Hampshire, where he operates a trailed John Deere R952i.

From here he covers five separate farms across land from Portsmouth up to Alton in Hampshire. “Each of the farms has its own water supply, chemical store and designated filling area. I carry a large front box  which holds everything I need, so I can be completely self-contained,” he explains.

While the sprayer is well-equipped with a 30m wide, variable geometry boom, auto-section control and other technology, it lacked decent mudguards. So Tristan has made his own for both the sprayer and the tractor using horse matting fitted to a frame.

The sprayer is towed on a Scharmüller hitch, which he says makes it feel like an integrated unit. It takes just a few minutes to connect up and drop off thanks to hydraulically lowered jack, with his tractor mudguards removed at the same time.

“I think the sprayer and its technology offers as good if not better performance that many self-propelleds,” he says.

When it comes to applications he likes to ‘keep things simple’ and stick to well-proven routines, which he adds, helps prevent mistakes. “I also plan my work day to reduce the need for washing out. Then at the end of the block or day all I need to do is run the auto-rinse program, which works very well.”

Tristan Newens mud guards
FSOOTY 2020 logo

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