Hiring it out or doing yourself?

CUSTOM SPRAYING AND MANURE MANAGEMENT CAN MAKE SENSE

due to economic benefits, convenience and other reasons, more and more Ontario farmers are choosing to hire custom spraying services instead of doing it themselves.

It’s an efficient way of operating a farm business, says Larry Batte, an associate with Collins Barrow accounting firm in Stratford, Ontario. For example, “it allows a dairy or hog farmer who also grows crops to spend more time managing livestock,” he notes. This is true for Millspring Farms, a 1,400 acre cash crop and dairy farm in Napanee operated by Dave Milligan, his father Wayne, grandfather Albert and cousin Mark. “It makes sense for our operation on many levels,” Milligan notes. “We started cropping more acres around eight years ago, and we were finding it hard to get all the crops sprayed at the same time that we were harvesting our first cut of haylage for the dairy cows. We try to make sure the hay that’s harvested is as digestible and high in protein as possible.”

managing costs
Cost savings come from other factors as well. “For our size of operation, purchasing a sprayer large enough to handle the acreage would tie up too many resources so we choose to hire the spraying done and spend our resources on our haying equipment,” says Milligan. “A company can cover a very large area in a day, and we get the GPS images that show application rates and any overlaps.” Custom operators also get volume discounts on product that can be passed on to farmers, adds Batte. Not having to buy a sprayer also means there are no repairs or upkeep costs to pay for, and this potentially leaves room to borrow money for more productive items.

Another benefit for Millspring stems from the farm’s location. “We’re very close to the town of Napanee, with fields right next to houses and wells,” Milligan observes, “so having someone else do the spraying means liability isn’t ours.” Custom operators carry greater levels of insurance than farmers, and can be held accountable for errors such as spraying the wrong chemical, notes Batte. In addition, custom operators also usually have a rapport with the chemical companies, which is very valuable if a situation arises such as a need for re-spray, or if the chemical doesn’t work as expected. “Individual farmers can have a much more difficult time,” Batte notes.

developing trust
Millspring uses O’Neill’s Farm Supply for custom spraying, which has outlets in Napanee and Tamworth. “We work closely with two operators who know our farm well,” says Milligan. “We talk a lot with them back and forth about problem areas or tank mixes. It’s important the company you choose communicates well with you.” Milligan adds, “We knew O’Neill’s for a long time before we hired them for custom spraying. You need to really trust who’s spraying your crops. It has to be done right, and it’s been a really good decision for us.”

Batte warns however that companies may not be available at the exact moment you need them to come. He also says if you have the attitude that “no one could do it better than me,” you should do your own spraying.

manure distribution
Farmers are also saving time and money by hiring manure spreading services. The cost of an up-to-date manure spreader that has features like flow rate control, record-keeping and floatation tires is too prohibitive for many growers. Farmers also increasingly have fields far away from their barns which, along with the type of spreading desired, are factors affecting total service cost, says Henry Van Iperen, an application technician and consultant with Bartels Environmental Services Inc. in Ancaster, Ontario. Van Iperen says with a dragline, the industry standard cost is one cent per gallon top spread and 1.1 cents for injected in the ground. If the manure has to be trucked to the field, there is an hourly fee per truck. Their Nuhn quad train tankers hold 12,000 gallons, has a 14-foot injector and an hourly fee instead of a rate per gallon.

Farmers can also get sewage bio-solids distributed on their fields free of charge by companies like Brantford-based Wessuc Inc. The company operates from Barrie to Haldimand-Norfolk County. The current Ministry of Environment regulations stipulate that farmers can receive only one application over a five-year period, says Wessuc spokesperson, Matt Jolley. However, beginning as of January 2010, applications are done on a nutrient-specific basis and regulated under the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. This means there are regulated limits of nutrients able to be applied within a five-year period, and the soil testing already required by law (for both macro and micronutrients) will become even more important.

The amount of nutrients available in sewage bio-solids depends on whether they are in liquid or solid form, says Jolley, and can also differ a little between loads. However, based on an application rate of 135 kilograms per hectare every five years of anaerobic liquid sewage bio-solids, he says each acre of field generally receives 120 pounds of nitrogen and 50 pounds of plant-available phosphorus, as well as micronutrients. The one drawback is that potassium levels are generally quite low.

SKY-HIGH SPRAYING
Aerial applications are often thought to be reserved for the large fields of western Canada but many farmers in Ontario are embracing the advantages of a sky-high application.

“We’re definitely seeing growth in the industry,” says Stan Mance of Great Lakes Helicopter. Using helicopters enables more flexibility for smaller fields and the speed of the rotors provides a strong downwash which helps the product penetrate the upper leaf canopy.

“Last year we sprayed about 16,000 acres of corn and a couple 1000 acres of soybeans throughout Ontario,” says Mance. Headline and Quilt are the most common aerially applied products on corn while Great Lakes Helicopter has been applying foliar fertilizers to soybeans.

“Aerial application has its limits in terms of which crop protection products can be applied, but there are a lot of benefits as well,” says Mance. With aerial applications, the height of corn is no longer a challenge and there is no hold up if the field is too wet for equipment.

Mance admits that there is a marginal cost different compared to traditional ground application, but aerial applications can meet important timelines and the risk of tracking disease from field to field is non-existent.

The helicopters used by the Waterloo-based company carry 300 litres and cover 15 acres in one load. Each load takes about 3.5 minutes to spray and reloading is done in less than two minutes. “We can cover about 140 acres in one hour,” says Mance. •