Products In Focus…


Microcast 200 applicator reduces crop passes, saves fuel and
helps a Northamptonshire farm reduce its carbon footprint

Replacing a troublesome liquid fertiliser spreader on his John Deere 750A drill with a Microcast 200, an applicator designed for precision placement of seeds and granular products, has enabled arable farmer Andrew Pitts to improve the accuracy of previous broadcasting systems and widen the use of the new applicator via different metering cartridges available through Microcast manufacturer, Techneat Engineering. Andrew, who farms 800ha of combinable crops alongside brother William on primarily heavy chalky boulder clay soils near Mears Ashby in Northants, originally changed his method of establishment from minimum tillage to direct drilling in 2016. After trialing six direct drills between 2016 and 2018, he eventually settled on the JD 750A as he found it moved the least amount of surface soil, critical to the ongoing success of the farm’s blackgrass strategy built around minimal soil disturbance.

Eighteen months on from the investment in the Microcast 200 and, amidst the farms move towards a new 6-year crop rotation, the change to a new applicator has also revealed some additional agronomic and economic benefits. “As a business we have always been very market driven. Everything we grow is based on a forward contract, and this enables us to track our fixed costs against predicted returns with a reasonably good degree of accuracy. With machines our policy is performance, accuracy and reliability so, when the liquid fertiliser spreader’s distribution heads started to continually block up, we made a quick decision to switch to a granular application system using the Microcast 200 from Techneat. “We’ve known Techneat for 30 years, since purchasing their Autocast V2 for rape establishment back in 1992. They build simple, well-engineered, reliable machines and, when required, can also innovate with a hands-on engineering approach if we’re looking to achieve something that may fall outside the standard specifications. The Microcast has a quick set up, is easy to calibrate and delivers granular fertiliser, or seed, into the furrows accurately via a flexible number of individual outlets spaced evenly across the full width of the drill.

“Although the primary reason for investing in the Microcast was to replace the liquid fertiliser system with a granular fertiliser applicator we were also aware that the machine can double as a seeder unit with minimal modifications. Fast forward eighteen months and we have now successfully widened the use of the Microcast 200 to include applying cover crops, companion crop planting and slug pellets through use of different metering cartridges that can be changed quickly and easily. “The economic savings from reduced fuel use and agronomic benefits of protecting our soil through reduced passes are important, enabling us to reduce the farms carbon footprint. However, when further examining savings on fertiliser inputs in greater detail, the overall benefits of the Microcast investment look even more impressive.

“In early August 2020 we used the new applicator to apply a mix of starter fertiliser and stubble turnips. Soil mineral nitrogen tests conducted in March 2021 indicated that, before being grazed by sheep, that mix had captured 85-90kg of nitrogen/ha, equating to 100% of available nitrogen. So, on the Spring barley crop that followed, we were able to reduce the applied nitrogen by 150kg/ha because we already had that amount of nitrogen being used in the soil operating at 60-70% efficiency. Given the current high cost of fertiliser, that equates to a considerable cost saving made by planting a companion crop, not to mention the creation of an extra use for the field itself in that we’re effectively growing 3 crops over 2 years at minimal cost.

“The adaptability of the Microcast 200 applicator helped facilitate the addition of the companion crop so it must take a fair amount of the overall credit for the cost savings” concludes Andrew.