The TAMS II Tillage Capital Investment Scheme (TCIS) has facilitated the modernisation of many tillage farms, particularly grant aid for precision technologies such as GPS guidance, autosteer and section control equipment. Much of this uptake in investment was in new sprayers, all of which were equipped with the latest such technology.

However, there are a lot of farmers out there who have very fresh sprayers, but are missing this tech. Perhaps some have already used up their TCIS allocation, or simply the cost of a new sprayer doesn’t stack up.

Now there is a more cost-efficient option on the cards for Irish farmers looking to upgrade their existing sprayer. It’s in the form of a retrofit Isobus ECU sprayer controller.

This Italian-built piece of kit from Geoline is being imported into Ireland by Carlow-based Clever Agri Components which has built its business around selling sprayers and sprayer components. We caught up with the father and son team, Tom and Killian Cannon, who walked us through the retrofit of an Isobus terminal and ECU sprayer controller to a basic-spec 2013 Massey Ferguson 5445 and a 1991 Knight 21m trailed sprayer. The duo noted that this retrofit is the first of its kind in Ireland. Depending on the sprayer, the retrofit process takes approximately two and a half to three hours.

The ECU sprayer controller has the capability to control two flow metres and up to 16 sections on a sprayer.

If you’re looking to fit such a system, the first question you need to ask is does your tractor have Isobus?

For those unsure what this is and how it works, Isobus is the industry-standard communication protocol for agricultural machinery manufacturers. It’s designed to allow control terminals and implements etc, regardless of the brand, talk to one another.

With standardised plugs and cables, in theory Isobus machines can be plugged into any Isobus terminal, with the same user interface and workflow, display to display, tractor to tractor. But you should keep an eye on the accreditation standards of individual terminals to be sure of compatibility.

The Isobus cable transmits the info from the ECU to the tractor.

If your tractor has Isobus, or if you have an Isobus terminal which meets ISO11783 standards (GPS and section control compatible), then you only have to invest in the ECU sprayer controller (€1,710 plus VAT) and a 10m Isobus cable (€720 plus VAT), which transmits the info from A to B. This ‘slave’ ECU sprayer controller has the capability to control anywhere up to 16 sections on a sprayer, while all rate and machine adjustments are made through the tractor’s terminal or through the existing Isobus terminal.

The IsoBus harness/plug for the tractor.

If you’re starting from scratch, and your tractor doesn’t have such capabilities (like the one profiled), you will have to invest in an Isobus control terminal and antenna for GPS. In this case, Killian recommended and fitted a Müller-Elektronik Track Guide III system, but any similar system made by CCI, Trimble or Topcon to name a few can just as easily be used. The system Killian fitted has an 8in screen and came at a cost of €2,495 plus VAT. For full compatibility with any Isobus implement, it needed a software upgrade/unlock for Isobus UT (Universal Terminal) (€539 plus VAT), another for GPS section control (€966 plus VAT) and an Isobus harness/plug for the tractor to convert it to Isobus (€377 plus VAT).

If your tractor doesn’t have IsoBus capabilities, you will have to invest in an Isobus control terminal and antenna for GPS.

The Isobus terminal is touchscreen and quite easy to navigate through. On a standard sprayer, once filled, you key the tank volume into the terminal. If you want to go one step further, the intake can either be measured through fitting a flow meter (€515 plus VAT) which calculates the liquid volume as it passes through and into the tank, or by an internal tank level sensor which can alternatively be fitted at a cost of €400 plus VAT.

All three of these systems will track the tank’s volume as the machine discharges the spray, and display the live tank volume on the screen. The machine’s target application rate is set in litres/ha, while nozzle choice is naturally key for accurate rate control. With this system, the tractor’s forward speed is either tracked by the GPS, or the speed sensor which comes with the ECU kit and is fitted on one of the sprayer’s wheels.

The GPS guidance system is operated the same as any other guidance system, with the operator initially spraying the headlands and picking up a reference point on the second run around the field. To benefit from the terminal’s GPS guidance technology and its sprayer setup, a split-screen option can be selected to keep a close eye on both. The work carried out such as area covered and litres used can be recorded by the terminal. The sprayer sections can also be manually switched on or off.

Once finished using the sprayer, the Isobus controller can be used as a standard guidance screen or used to operate other Isobus implements, such as a fertiliser spreader. Other unlocks such as variable rate application are available on the controller, while cameras and joystick control (extra €400 plus VAT) can be added if you want to go that extra mile.

If your tractor has IsoBus such as the one pictured, you only have to invest in the ECU sprayer controller and a 10m IsoBus cable.

Killian explained that once the chassis, booms and the tank are in good order in a sprayer of any age, you can equip it with the very latest technology. The only other area that needs to be looked at when fitting such technology is the width of the sprayer sections. To get the benefit of the section control, each section should be as close to 3m as possible, although folding and boom configuration will have an influence. Thus, a 24m working width sprayer should ideally have seven sections. However, these can be replumbed to add extra sections, which will often still work out cost effective versus buying a new machine.

Other unlocks such as variable rate application are available on the controller, while cameras and joystick control (extra €400 plus VAT) can be added if you want to go that extra mile.

The below figures are based on a 24m trailed sprayer with more than six sections, meaning the sprayer’s control unit doesn’t have to be adjusted. The only variable to the below options is the fitting cost which the company say will be based on how the sprayer was controlled before installing the kit.

Killian confirmed to the Irish Farmers Journal that this system falls under the ‘full GPS section control retrofit’ option for sprayers under the TCIS TAMS II, meaning farmers are eligible for 40% grant aid (60% for young farmers).