A Norfolk-based arable farmer who describes his Fendt Rogator sprayer as the most important machine on his farm, has no doubts that he has selected the best make and model for the demanding spraying role.
Trading as Avocet Farming Ltd, Mark Gill grows approximately 900ha of cereals and 560ha of maize on a mix of owned, rented and contract-farmed land, near Norwich. The Gill family has farmed at Coston Hall for three generations, and the family mixed farm was recently split between Mark, who manages the arable farming business and an AD plant, and his brother John who runs a successful dairy operation.
The brothers still work together. The arable division supplies straw and machinery to the livestock enterprise when required, and manure from the dairy unit is applied to the arable crops and fuels the AD plant.
Mark’s team includes two full-time and two part-time employees. The land is mainly classed as medium loam, but there are also areas of lighter and stronger land within the farmed area. Crops within the rotation include wheat, maize for grain and forage, oilseed rape, barley, vining peas, trailing sunflowers, and potatoes grown on land which is owned but rented out on short-term agreements. Approximately 90ha is within environmental stewardship schemes, and the team also manages 280ha of grass and a similar area of woodland.
Techniques including under sowing, companion cropping and cover cropping are used to maximise productivity, and using strip-tillage has allowed double-cropping of maize behind rye which allows two crops to be harvested in a season. The rye is either combined for grain or harvested as forage for the AD plant.
Most of the digestate is applied to the land to optimise soil health and provide organic fertiliser, but a successful business has also been established selling it in bags as green compost for gardening under the Grow Greener brand name.
Change to self-propelled
The wide variety of crops provides a large workload for the sprayer. Trailed sprayers were used until 2018, when a wet season created mobility problems and resulted in deep wheelings. “I did most of the spraying that season and became very aware of the mess created by the tractor and sprayer combination,” Mark explained. “It tracked well, but having three axles meant a lot of crop was run down when reversing into corners and negotiating obstructions. We tried several self-propelled machines before deciding on an AGCO Challenger Rogator from Thurlow Nunn Standen (TNS). It was the ideal package, especially with hydraulic-adjustable axle widths which allows us to optimise wheel to crop clearance whether working in cereals, root crops or maize.”
The sprayer also had optional OptiRide height control, enabling the chassis to be raised 45cm for working in taller crops. “The adjustable height is a real advantage as it gives us up to 120cm clearance for late applications to oilseed rape and maize but allows a standard ride height on the road and in conventional crops. The sprayer also came with a very attractive warranty which is something we value highly,” Mark added.
The Rogator’s specification included a 5,000-litre tank and 36m booms and, although the trailed sprayer it replaced had a larger 6,000-litre tank, the work rates achieved by the Rogator were 15–35% higher. “It revolutionised our spraying, and also made it practical to use two sets of wheels,” explained Mark. “Previously, we had just one set for the trailed sprayer as there was little point in changing them without doing the tractor wheels too. Putting narrow wheels on the tractor would have made it unsuitable for other field or transport work, so the wheel width was always a compromise. For the self-propelled sprayer, we have two sets – narrow rowcrops and wider flotation. This means we can minimise rutting on wet ground and then reduce the amount of crop that is run down in the spring.
“We sold one tractor as it was no longer needed for spraying, and now we just hire an extra machine when necessary.”
Nimble and light-footed
Mark said that although the Rogator looks a large machine it is extremely nimble. With all four wheels driven and tracking perfectly during turns there is very little ground damage, even in the wet, and especially when it is running on the wider tyres. For early season and stubble applications, the wheels can also crab-steer to spread the load over a wider surface area. “Our trailed sprayer wouldn’t have travelled in some of the conditions where we have used the self-propelled machine,” he stressed. “Owners of the land we contract-farm are very happy with its performance and light footprint.”
Although the Rogator sprayer has one main operator, Mark and another employee also drive it when needed. “We all appreciate the cab comfort and the ease of operation,” Mark continued. “Compared to other sprayers, it’s much quieter, and standing outside there is significantly less noise from the Fendt transmission.
“Several farmers have watched with interest and asked what we think of the Rogator, and we expect to see more operating locally as a result. The back-up from the TNS Fendt Area Sales Manager Jolly Bullen, and from Gareth Bell and Ben Miller who specialise in sprayer service from the TNS Littleport depot, is exceptional. They often provide solutions by phone, and if we need them here then they are waiting in the yard when we arrive in the morning. Fendt telemetry allows remote fault diagnosis through error codes and technicians can check the sprayer’s location before visiting.”
The Challenger Rogator was replaced by a new Fendt Rogator 645 this spring. “We started discussions regarding updating the machine in early 2022 and ordered the Fendt without hesitation and without considering anything else, as we knew it was the best machine for the job,” continued Mark. “We have lots of small fields and an average size of only 9ha, so the booms are folded and unfolded frequently but showed little sign of wear, never giving us any problems, right up until the five-year old sprayer was traded in.
“The Rogator is far superior to anything available elsewhere, and the TNS back-up couldn’t be better. The new Fendt version features specification upgrades and design improvements over earlier machines, and these have been appreciated by the operator.”
Neil Mendham is the Rogator’s main user. “Like the previous AGCO Rogator, the new Fendt version is exceptionally smooth and quiet,” he said. “The sprayer suspension and boom suspension are extremely effective, and the boom height control is reliable, although I always lift the ends during headland turns just to make sure that they can’t strike the ground.”
Improvements over the previous version include extra automation, including automatic tank rinse and cleaning. The larger 60-litre chemical induction hopper has new OptiFlow electronic valve control from an external terminal beside the filling point, or from duplicated controls in the cab. Automatic tank fill control allows the user to set the required liquid volume with a pause before the full amount is added, giving time to add complex mixes.”
Neil’s only suggestion for improving the design concerns in-cab storage. “There is space for odds and ends, but it would be good to have somewhere secure for paperwork. That’s just a minor criticism though – I love the machine. It’s easy to set up and operate, with controls like Fendt tractors; the ride comfort is far superior to any tractor, and I can work all day without feeling tired. It has everything needed to optimise performance and achieve accurate applications for consistent crops.”
The new sprayer has QuadSelect nozzle bodies. These are fitted with four different sized nozzles, and the application control system automatically selects any one nozzle or two nozzle combination to maintain the rate and droplet size needed, depending on speed. Mark said that rates from 100–400 litres/ha can be achieved while maintaining crop treatment efficacy without the operator leaving the seat.
Plenty of capacity
“Our previous Rogator sprayer comfortably completed 8,500ha of crop treatment and fertiliser applications last year,” said Mark. “We use liquid fertiliser throughout the season for our maize, and apply pre-emergence sprays with the fertiliser while achieving effective coverage.
“The sprayer gives us such high work rates that we can usually complete the workload without starting early or finishing particularly late, and without needing to work seven days per week. It’s reassuring to know that we have plenty of spare capacity for a fourth application of liquid fertiliser if its needed, and for additional land.”
The new sprayer was purchased with a 5,500-hour manufacturer warranty. “The previous Rogator worked 4,000 hours without any major problems, but we like to have all our main machinery protected by manufacturer warranties,” Mark concluded. “We will probably update the Fendt machine at 5,000 hours while it still has full cover, and there is no question at all in my mind – we will stick with what we are doing and have another Fendt Rogator from Jolly Bullen and the team at TNS.”