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BoomTrac versus blackgrass

Anyone looking to update an existing sprayer should consider some form of automated boom height control system, say Northamptonshire arable farmer Joe Lee and his TAG agronomist Chris Page. Both believe the John Deere 840i trailed sprayer equipped with BoomTrac to be a crucial part of the farm’s weed control strategy, thanks to increased accuracy and consistency of herbicide application.


Joe Lee farms 800ha (2000ac) of arable land as part of a partnership with his father and uncle at Handley Park Farm near Towcester. Although the land varies from medium to heavy in places, most is a medium loam and the crop rotation is split into thirds, comprising winter wheat, spring barley and oilseed rape.


Maintaining a good level of weed control is crucial within the rotation, he believes. “We try hard to keep on top of grass weeds like blackgrass – it’s important not to get complacent, particularly as we have a three-part rotation.”


Blackgrass control usually involves what he describes as a “lot of glyphosate” coupled with a combination of cultural methods that encourage chitting. “Previously we have been notorious locally for our high blackgrass levels, but due to improved chemical application and timing, since we’ve had this sprayer we are now hopefully turning the corner,” he says.


Joe Lee has had his John Deere 840i sprayer for two years, following an older 800 Series model that he ran for about six years, and was very pleased with, to the extent of recommending it to several other farmers in the area.


Equipped with a 4000-litre tank and 24m boom, the current model is also fitted with a suite of technology options that maximise effectiveness but minimise the cost of spraying, including Sectional Control automatic boom control of eight 3m sections and BoomTrac automatic boom height and tilt control. The sprayer is towed by a John Deere 6930 tractor equipped with AutoTrac automatic steering, and for more accurate application it is also fitted with angled TeeJet nozzles.


“Last autumn, we found that it was quite warm and that the air current would alter the degree at which spray would hit the target area, which is something the BoomTrac system alleviated straight away. It’s now a case of entering the target height, often 50cm depending on the nozzle being used, and you’re guaranteed this is the height the boom will remain, regardless of terrain or speed,” says Joe.


“I consider boom height control to be equally as important as auto section control in boosting efficiency and accuracy. What the 840i gives you is complete peace of mind that you are doing the job you set out to do.”


Boom height control is a quintessential tool for sprayer operators, agrees Chris Page, the farm’s TAG (The Arable Group) agronomist. “Hitting the right target areas and minimising losses to the environment are equally important, which is why maintaining the correct spraying height is crucial,” he says.


“Every droplet has to count. The importance of ensuring maximum efficiency from pre-emergence herbicide applications right through to products like Atlantis is also crucial. Otherwise poorer control can result, resistance to such products will build and we will be left with a reduced armoury against grass weeds.”


Boom control also allows operators to put their energy into other aspects of spray application, he adds. “When you’re dealing with wider working widths, it’s critical to have more control over the whole boom and ensure boom stability when travelling at speeds of around 14kph.


“In 2012’s wet conditions, sprayers were sinking into damp ground regularly and I noticed that machines which could adjust their boom height quickly, and hence apply herbicides more consistently, gave far better weed control.


“I would maintain that it’s well worth specifying some degree of automatic boom height control on a new sprayer,” says Chris Page. “Both for the operator’s peace of mind and for environmental protection, being able to ensure spray is consistently applied to the target area, regardless of the conditions, is essential.”

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