Slurry machinery is changing at a rate faster than most other farm machinery lines.
In fact, take a walk around any machinery show and you could be forgiven for thinking the majority of slurry application in Ireland is now carried out using shiny injectors or trailing shoe applicators.
The truth, of course, is that splash plate application equipment is still by far the most popular method. Why? Because the splash plate is simple and it serves farmers well in terms of efficient work rates, simplicity of technology and minimal machine downtime.
Add in the relative low cost and fewer moving parts compared to other methods and one can see why it remains the de facto system for most farmers.
Every so often murmurs of a splash plate ban surface, but such is the popularity of the method that this would be an extremely controversial move amongst farmers and would require some political will.
Currently the only restriction to slurry application using splash plate in Ireland is that the machine must be fitted with a low trajectory splash plate.
While the splash plate is the most popular application method in Ireland, alternative methods of application are becoming more understood and more available.
On the Continent these alternative application methods are even more common, often due to more pervasive legislative restrictions to using splash plate tankers than we currently have in place in Ireland.
The main reason for the shift towards alternative application methods is due to the high level of gaseous ammonia losses associated with splash plate spreading.
Ammonia is a compound that contains nitrogen. Approximately 50pc of the total nitrogen contained in slurry is present in an ammonia form. While this form of nitrogen can be taken up quickly by crops, it can also be volatilised into the air and lost.
Losses of ammonia to the air are at their highest in the 24 hour period immediately after slurry application, with the initial six hour period being most critical.
Losses of ammonia are caused by weather conditions that cause drying of the slurry, particularly warm, dry and sunny conditions.
The consequence of the gaseous ammonia loss is two-fold. Firstly, if the nitrogen contained in slurry is lost to the air, then it is no longer available to the crop to which it was applied, and must therefore be replaced with chemical fertiliser.
Secondly, ammonia loss will also have environmental consequences.
Ammonia belongs to a group of gases which are collectively known as acidifying gases, and gives rise to a number of environmental problems, including acid rain.
Therefore, slurry application methods that minimise ammonia losses will benefit both farmers and the environment.
Ammonia losses from slurry occur when the slurry is exposed to weather conditions that cause drying.
Since the splash plate applies slurry as a thin film across the entire spreading width of the machine, the surface area of slurry exposed to the weather is relatively large.
This gives rise to a high potential for loss of ammonia, and a low nitrogen fertiliser value of slurry as a result. Ammonia losses with splash plate application can be reduced by applying in weather conditions that will not cause excessive drying.
While heavy rainfall and saturated soils must be avoided, application on days that are cool, overcast or even misty is recommended.
Splash plate variations
In recent times a swivel spout applicator - which is a type of variation on the splash plate - has been selling well in Ireland.
The Moscha swivel spout applicator is a system was designed by a German farmer who was seeking a better slurry-spreading technique before splash-plate systems were banned in Germany.
The basic idea is that the nozzle slows down the speed at which slurry leaves the tanker, thereby creating larger slurry droplets.
The bigger droplets are claimed to retain the ammonia gases within the liquid more effectively than when slurry is spread with a higher-pressure conventional splash-plate system. The oscillating movement of the spout gives a working width of 12-18m depending on pressure and the vacuum tanker's pump size.
Over 600 of these units have been sold in Ireland in the last couple of years, which perhaps shows a desire for a spreading system that retains the efficiencies of splash plate application but also goes some way towards meeting farmers' environmental responsibilities.
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