Is umbilical slurry spreading better value than a conventional tanker?

Umbilical slurry spreading systems have some big advantages over conventional tanker systems

Less compaction and higher work rates make umbilical systems a great option for early spring spreading.
Less compaction and higher work rates make umbilical systems a great option for early spring spreading.
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

Weather permitting, in a few weeks spreading of slurry, farmyard manure and chemical fertiliser can resume in the 'Zone A' counties. By 1 February, spreading will be taking place all over the country again.

The key point is to get your slurry out early (if the weather permits) in order to get the best nutrient recovery and cut your fertiliser costs.

However, the caveat is that in practice the weather often doesn't permit slurry spreading in January, and bringing heavy machinery onto land after the heavy winter rain can lead to all sorts of difficulties down the line.

One possible solution that a lot of farmers overlook is umbilical spreading, which means spreading without the use of a heavy tanker.

Spreading slurry with an umbilical spreading system is still a rare sight across Ireland, but it is a system that always wins new fans once the going gets heavy in terms of soft ground.

The umbilical system has three key advantages over a conventional tanker system: higher work rates, lower spread costs per acre and much less soil compaction because there are no heavy tankers.

Compaction and rutting causes long term damage to soil structure.
Compaction and rutting causes long term damage to soil structure.

One of the common misconceptions when it comes to umbilical spreading is that it only suits a farm with one large block of land around a central yard sat in the middle.

While the shape of the farm is important in terms of logistics, some key developments in hose strength and pump capacity mean the umbilical system is considerably more adaptable than people think.

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With modern hoses it is now possible to spread slurry in fields that are up to 2.4km away from the slatted tank in the farmyard.

Only the final 100-200m of the hose actually moves as the tractor drives around the field.

The rest of the hose is stationary, ensuring that the A-frame on the back of the tractor doesn't have to pull too much weight around with it. The slurry has to be pumped under huge pressure (about 17 bar) to travel up to 2km down the hose.

When spreading is finished or when you want to move to a different field, the flow of slurry to the applicator is stopped and the hose is reeled in as required for transport.

Because the umbilical system depends on having a hose carrying slurry to the spreading system at all times, another potential problem arises when the pipe has to cross a road.

Many farms are divided up into two or even three main blocks of land, yet might only have the one main yard where slurry is stored.

However, it is possible to spread in fields that are separated from the farm by a roadway by placing ramps over the hose where it crosses the road.

Work rates and costings

Conventional tanker

With conventional tanker slurry spreading - where a batch is spread and then the tractor returns to the slurry store to refill - work rates are hugely affected by the transport times going to and from the slurry source.

Using a tanker at best allows the operator to put out around three loads per hour. Therefore, if the tanker size is 2,500 gallons, this means an average application rate of 7,500 gallons an hour. At normal application rates, this equates to about 2.5 acres spread an hour.

Umbilical system

Contrast these figures with an umbilical system, where a constant supply of slurry is pumped at very high pressures from the source all the way to the applicator on the back of the tractor.

This gives much greater average work rates of 25,000 to 30,000 gallons per hour, depending on the slurry quality and how well it has been agitated.

What can a farmer expect to pay a contractor for umbilical spreading?

The higher work rates of umbilical spreading of certainly make for an attractive hourly price.

Typically, a contractor would charge €110 an hour plus VAT for umbilical spreading. That figure includes the lot - both tractors (one in the field, the other pumping back at base) and a wage for both operators.

Spreading 30,000 gallons an hour at a good rate of 3,000 gallons an acre means you will cover 10 acres per hour.

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