Based near the Giants Causeway, Bushmills, Co Antrim, James Richmond runs Causeway Agri alongside a sheep enterprise. However, not being your typical agricultural contractor, James specialises in liquid fertiliser application and crop spraying.
Having originally started out as a general agricultural contractor, James moved into the area of crop spraying during the 1990s.
At this time, spraying potato crops with acid was the done thing and required specialist gear. Given that few farmers at the time were equipped with the suitable machinery, James had a niche offering which saw him spray on farms in all corners of the country.
In the late 1990s, James spotted an opening with fertiliser manufacturer Norsk Hydro (now Yara) to apply liquid fertiliser for farmers.
Being handy in the workshop, James built his own 3m injection system from scratch which he mounted on a Massey Ferguson 6290 and began injecting fertiliser for Norsk Hydro.
By the early 2000s, James had three injection systems working on three Massey Ferguson 6290s from February right up until May.
“We covered a large area spanning from Louth to Donegal. There were years we injected up to 2,500 acres,” James said.
By 2009, the contract with Yara had come to an end, so he began manufacturing his own flex fertilisers and foliar feeds for a number of years.
Wanting to operate as a one-man band and keep things as efficient as possible, James looked into the idea of doubling his working width using just one machine.
The idea of fitting a larger injection unit on the back of a Multidrive tractor dawned on him one day. With a few modifications he was confident that the larger 6185 model would be capable of carrying a 6m injection unit.
“I had good experience with Multidrives at this point, I had a 6200 and an older Clayton 4120 model which I have still. Both machines were fitted with 24m Chafer sprayers,” James said.
Adapting the Multidrive
In 2010, he bought a new Multidrive 6185 tractor unit for the job. The 6185 model churns out 185hp from its six-pot John Deere engine which he believes is the same, non-common-rail engine that Deere fitted in early 6920 models. Sending power to the Spicer axles is a six-speed ZF powershift transmission.
At the time, this would have been the flagship Multidrive model until the common rail, 195hp 6195 came along a year or so later.
Rear three-point linkage wasn’t an option given that these machines were built to carry sprayers and spreaders. This was James’s first task, to fit the machine with linkage which he did using the front link arms of an old MB Trac and having got lift cylinders made to suit. The rear three-point linkage was plumbed to work off one of the six spool valves.
Next, James had the challenge of modifying two of his 3m injection units so that they could be fitted on the Multidrive as one folding 6m unit.
“I needed to design a central A-frame that each 3m section could be hinged from, similar to a folding power harrow. This took the best part of two months. I made an initial attempt at it but it wasn’t a success. I then sat down and drew it out to scale as how I envisaged it should work and went from there.
“Once the injector was fitted, I mounted a 4,000l Gem sprayer tank I had in the yard. Coincidently it happened to be built for Multidrive, so this was a quick fit.
“Once this was complete, it was a matter of wiring and piping up the system which essentially involved all the working parts of a sprayer. I got help from a local RDS salesman at the time. We fitted a Delta 34i sprayer controller to monitor application rates, speeds, pressures and all other application information.
“Given that the Multidrive is fitted with two hydraulic pumps, I use one to run the main stainless steel centrifugal pump for the fertiliser while the second hydraulic pump looks after all other functions. Each of the 20 fertiliser outlet pipes pass through a manifold directly outside the right-hand window. Each outlet has a glass with a stainless steel ball that stays suspended during operation. If the ball drops I can see straight away that there is a blockage in a particular outlet.”
James has the machine fitted with a Trimble GPS and auto-steer system for guaranteed accuracy. In addition, either of the 3m sections can be individually shut off to prevent overlap in narrowing runs.
Eleven years on
Now in his 11th season, James is still impressed with how the machine is performing. “I doubled my working width and halved headland turns. Early on I had to make a few modifications. One was to strengthen the linkage system to cope with the weight of the injector. I haven’t had to touch anything else apart from replacing the wearing metal parts. It’s not perfect. If I was to do it again there are aspects I would tweak slightly.
“It’s well balanced and has plenty of power for the job. It is fitted with 650/75 R30 Michelin Axiobib IF tyres, which I run at 8psi for a light footprint. The fact front-wheel or four-wheel steer can be easily selected leaves it very manoeuvrable. While working, I have it set up not to four-wheel steer anything under an angle of 17° which leaves small corrections easy with the front wheels and headland turns quicker using all four wheels. It’s a comfy machine to drive given that it is sprung front and rear even at its top speed of 50km/h.
“All the Multidrives I’ve owned have been very reliable. They’re built with reliable, proven components. All I’ve had to replace on this one has been the oil cooler, which I feel was faulty from new.
Multidrive has history spanning back almost 40 years. The British-built tool carrier concept started life branded as the Buggi, built by Yorkshire firm Clayton. The Buggi was then bought and advanced by military and all-terrain truck specialists Multidrive. After the death of the company’s founder in 2004, the firm was taken over by the Kelland Group in early 2006 which acquired both the design rights and factory. Kellands continued to develop the Multidrive tractor range until it was acquired by Alamo Group Europe in 2014.
Today, Kellands is a sister company of McConnel and the former manufacturers of the well-known Agribuggy sprayer range which McConnel introduced in its own yellow and black livery back in 2017. McConnel still manufactures the larger Multidrive range today.
Multidrive machines were well liked among tillage farmers and contractors for their simple mechanical approach.
How injection works and its benefits
The injection system works of the same principle as a seed drill. Each 3m section is equipped with 10 discs at 300mm spacings. As James explained it, behind each disc is a steel knife with a steel tube to apply fertiliser below the surface. Fertiliser is evenly metered to each outlet depending on application rate. The discs and knives slit and part the soil just enough so that the liquid can be injected before it closes back over. Large steel wheels control the depth at which the unit operates. This ranges from 70mm to 100mm. Each disc and injection unit is sprung so that in the event of hitting a foreign object it will trip to avoid damage.
James noted how the liquid fertiliser concept is liked by his customers. “It’s not a foliar fertiliser, it’s not designed to be applied to the leaves of a plant. It’s a soil-acting fertiliser – therefore, it is absorbed by the plant as it is needed over the growing season. The benefits of injection include reduced losses to the atmosphere and losses to field boundaries or watercourses as product is injected into the soil compared to traditional broadcast methods. At the same time soil is being aerated as result of the injection process. Depending on the product, as little as one application is enough per grazing season, therefore labour is reduced.”