THE guest speaker on a recent Zoom meeting of the
NI Branch of the Institution of Agricultural Engineers was Richard Fitzpatrick, from Slurryquip, who has now been involved with the manufacture and supply of slurry spreading equipment for 27 years.
The business is based on his family farm at Mount Panther, Clough, on the east coast of County Down.
On leaving Loughry College in 1985 he became involved with running the farm following the death of his father Seamus. He also went out to New South Wales, Australia, for some seasonal work experience on a broadacre cotton farm. On his return to home he began selling farm machinery as a side line.
By 1993/4 he had commenced the design and manufacturing of drag hose umbilical slurry systems with the SlurryKat brand name. This developed to serve customers in Ireland and Scotland as well as co-operation with a partner in Holland supplying umbilical systems to spread slurry carried in large off-road Terragator vehicles.
By 2008 Richard had decided to sell on his established SlurryKat operation, leave Mount Panther and go back to NSW Australia and try broadacre irrigation farming on his own account, where his crops included cotton, sorgum, haylage and wheat.
Climatic conditions there were very different to home with the constant strong sunlight and high temperatures taking some getting used to. Drought, floods and high mice population infestations were regular features.
Reliable water supply and man-agement was vital to cropping success with excess stored in a large 80 acre storage dam. Typical daily surface evaporation was around 25mm and substantial additional water supplies were also contracted in. Other farms in the state practised dryland cereal growing.
Unlike County Down soils, where wheat sowing is deferred until after rainfall, NSW farmers have to make the most of the available moisture by sowing when the rain is on!
The harsh climatic variations can support some very profitable production years but others are the opposite with growers often having to endure an anxious wait of several years before achieving profitable yields again.
The latest news from there is that compared to the previous two severe drought years, farmers are currently enjoying a relatively good cropping season.
Weeds are controlled all year, both in the crop and to save water. Crop spraying techniques range from aerial applications to modern precision spot spraying techniques. Genetically modified glyphosate-resistant cotton crops are typical with Monsanto issuing licences for the use of its seed varieties.
As well as farming, Richard was still spending some time in the design and manufacture of slurry equipment. In 2010 he decided to sell the NSW farm and move on to the South Island of New Zealand. The climate there and the prevalence of large dairy herds was his incentive to develop, manufacture and supply umbilical systems to farms in the area.
The scale of the New Zealand farms demanded efficient and high output systems. His intended three-month stay extended to two years after which local dealerships have continued to supply his Slurryquip branded product, as a market leader, on both the North and South islands.
Richard has since moved his manufacturing base back to Northern Ireland but still supplies his dealers in Australia and New Zealand as well as UK, Ireland. Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Finland and other locations around the world.
The priority for his customers in Ireland still tends to be protecting soils in our wet climate compared to speed and low cost spreading performance for most other world markets.
Richard and his son Seamus now manufacture at the Mount Panther site with 30 people employed there and 20 others at work with associated sub-contractors.
The Slurryquip range now includes retro-fit dribble bar booms up to 12m for existing slurry tankers, tractor-mounted umbilical boom systems up to 15m, and a new range of farm-sized tankers with integrated folding front-mounted dribble bars.
All of the systems are available with intelligent application rate tracking management systems. A complete range of remote control slurry pumps, hose reels, layflat pipe and couplings are also supplied.
The market for dribble bars, to retrofit existing tankers, is still significant in the UK and Ireland but for larger livestock units the trend is away from field tankers to high capacity umbilical systems which can spread at up to 300 cubic metres/hour.
The earlier systems delivered through 4.5” layflat hose but Slurry-quip now strongly promotes the larger 5” or 6” hose sizes as, with them, much less power and fuel is needed to get the same output in all types of slurry.
Although SlurryQuip has not been directly involved in manufacturing its own large trailed slurry tankers, it has identified a niche market (on 80 to 150 cow herd sized farms) for a medium size tanker with a front-mounted boom dribble bar system for safer use on sloping land and ease of manoeuvring in smaller fields, small yards and narrow roads.
The Cerberus field tanker is designed around its front-mounted folding booms to optimise weight distribution, improve traction and minimise the tail swing compared to an attached rear boom applicator. It is now available in a range of capacities up to 12,500 litres (2,750 gallons) and boom widths up to 12m.
It has a flow control and GPS recording equipment to guide and record accurate application rates. This and other planned new products are now routinely patented to prevent unauthorised copying in some markets.
Mountpanter Farm Park occupies a prominent attractive location, adjacent to the A2 main Mourne coastal tourist route, just six miles north of the seaside resort of Newcastle. Part of the farm now has a farm zoo enterprise (in season, employing up to 40 people) and play park where family groups can visit.
The content of the presentation led on to an interesting in depth discussion period around a range of topics including:
n Manufacturing costs and service logistics in New Zealand compared to Northern Ireland;
n The export market to New Zealand for livestock-farm equipment;
n The macerator design and its hydraulic power flow requirement of around 25 litres/minute;
n The advantages of using 50mm dribble feed pipes;
n Possible future use of trailing shoe boom-mounted systems;
n Slurry spreading regulations in Australia and New Zealand;
n Design priorities for different markets.
Branch Chairman Ken Gardiner, in thanking Richard for his most interesting, informative and enjoy-able presentation, wished him and his business all success for the future.
n More details on all the products and services referred to above can be viewed on the Slurryquip website.