Based just outside New Ross, Co Wexford, in the sunny southeast, Philip Kehoe farms alongside his father Francis on the family tillage farm.
Their main vocation is potato growing, planting in the region of 100 acres annually and an additional 300 acres of winter and spring cereals.
Alongside farming, Philip is in the grain storage business and has his own mill, blending and bagging meal rations for Glanbia.
Last year, Philip availed of the Tillage Capital Investment Scheme under TAMS II to upgrade his trailed sprayer to a higher-specification GPS section control machine.
The sprayer purchased was a Hardi Commander 4500 with the unique Twin Force boom, replacing an older 2009 Commander Twin Force model.
Philip and Francis explained that every sprayer dating back to the family’s first mounted machine has been a Hardi model.
The unique Twin Force air-assisted boom option from Hardi, fitted to the Kehoes’ last three sprayers, has been crucial in the decision to stick with the brand ever since.
The Twin Force boom uses an air curtain to control spray application. The name Twin has been given to the concept as it offers twin solutions – from no air to full air.
Launched by Hardi in 1987, the Twin Force may not be new technology, but it’s fair to say that the number of air-assisted sprayers working in Ireland is low, mainly due to the additional cost over a standard boom.
The concept uses two hydraulically-powered fans which fill the air bag with air. The air is then forced through the outlet holes behind the nozzles, creating an air curtain.
The volume of air and angle of the curtain can be changed on the go depending on wind direction (angle forward for head wind or angle backwards for tailwind).
Philip noted how the Twin Force concept suits his enterprise for multiple reasons, the main one being the ability to spray on days a conventional sprayer couldn’t.
This is made possible by the air curtain, which acts as a barrier to wind, allowing the spray to reach the crop as it should.
“Spraying potatoes is a weekly job at this time of the year. Conditions aren’t always going to be ideal, but the Twin Force leaves us from having to wait for ideal conditions.”
Another reason for choosing the Twin Force is the reduced drift, so that neighbouring crops, especially the more delicate ones such as beet, are not subject to damage as result of spray drift.
Another benefit of the Twin Force boom is the fact that nozzles do not need to be swapped multiple times to suit the weather or the application rate/product used. Instead, Philip uses the one flat fan-type nozzle for all applications.
The air curtain can also be used so that the air helps spray penetrate the crop by separating the crop canopy.
It is especially useful for potatoes that have quite a bit of foliage, Philip noted.
Hardi claims that chemical usage can be reduced by up to 30%, as well as reducing water consumption, by using the Twin Force given the degree of direct coverage. This is something the Kehoes haven’t experimented with. However, they feel it is possible.
Induction hopper and build
The Commander 4500 adapts Hardi’s straightforward approach in terms of usability. Control levers are kept to a minimum, with only two levers on the sprayer for selecting induction, agitation and spraying modes.
The induction hopper is an area with some new features not seen on the Kehoes’ previous Commander.
The TurboFiller and jug washer are two good additions to the hopper, greatly improving the mix and intake of chemical, let it be liquid or powder form, Philip noted.
The sprayer is fitted with the tried and tested Hardi 464 diaphragm pump, a trouble-free unit which was fitted to the farm’s previous sprayers, Philip said.
Another point of the sprayer’s user-friendliness are the Easy Clean filters, which, in the event of a blockage, can be removed even while running.
Hardi places its 500l clean water tank directly over the axle for stability purposes. This 500l can be additionally diverted into the primary tank if required.
The 4,500l primary tank is flat-bottomed, with no nooks or crannies, leaving the rinse procedure easy.
The manufacturer uses a different steering system to most other brands, in that the whole rear of the sprayer, including the boom and axle, turns together as one instead of just the hubs, similar to the steering system on other sprayers.
This is so that when steering out of a tramline on to the headland, the sprayer boom will remain pulling straight for longer and therefore follow better.
Philip’s sprayer is fitted with a 24m double-folding steel boom, which he feels is stronger built in comparison with the previous sprayer. Hydraulic suspension leaves the sprayer smooth regardless of the terrain, absorbing loads instead of transferring them to the boom.
The boom is fitted with LED lights, which he noted were a super job when spraying at night during hot weather, lighting up every nozzle.
Philip opted for the AutoHeight and AutoTerrain boom management system, which uses ultrasonic sensors to measure and maintain consistent boom height at all times.
“This is a great comfort, especially while in potato drills, instead of manually adjusting boom height. The operator’s attention can now be focused elsewhere,” said Philip.
Controls and terminal
The sprayer is IsoBus-controlled. Spraying with a 2000 John Deere 6510 meant the tractor had to be retrofitted with the Hardi/Ag Leader Isobus kit.
Inside the cab is the HC 8600 8.4in terminal, along with the SetBox control box and joystick for boom functions.
All the usual criteria, such as application rates, tank level, boom height, twin fan speed and GPS-related info, is displayed on-screen.
Philip explained how the operating system is very intuitive and easily adapted to, even for his 74-year-old father who does 100% of the spraying still. The automatic agitation feature takes care of the mixing process before spraying commences.
The set box can be used to engage automatic or manual steering, twin-fan speed and air curtain angle, with presets for each.
The joystick controls all the usual boom functions, as well as the manual shutdown of each of the 13 sections.
Nozzles can be grouped depending on the operator’s preferences for automatic section control.
Philip explained how he has his sprayer set up so that out of the 48 nozzles, the three outer nozzles on each side can be shut off individually. The remaining 42 nozzles are split into a further seven sections.
Philip is glad to have availed of the TAMS II grant and upgraded to a higher-tech sprayer.
“The section control alone is a serious advancement and something we wouldn’t do without now, as it removes any guesswork. There are definitely benefits to be gained from using section control, chemical savings and an even crop performance being the two major benefits. Crops are more even as there isn’t any excess application in areas which would typically leading to scorching or lodging.
“Dad still does all of the spraying which is roughly in the region of 3,000 acres annually. So, it was important that we both became familiar with the new cab terminal. It took a few days of spraying. However, we quickly got the gist of it.
“The Twin Force boom is the real standout feature. What is such a simple concept really works well. Taking out the fact coverage is better, having the peace of mind that we can spray on pretty much any day is a serious benefit. Some manufacturers claim to be able to achieve the same results with nozzle technology, but the fact we work away with one nozzle all the time leaves life easier.
“The only downside is the additional cost of the boom, but considering we tend to keep a sprayer for a long number of years leaves it justifiable.
“Our previous sprayer had been on the farm since 2009 and was still working away the best. There was practically no maintenance to the Twin Force system over the years apart from an oil leak.
“With this being our third air-assisted sprayer, I can’t see us moving back to a conventional sprayer given its simplicity and performance,” Philip said.