In today’s agricultural economy, producers have quickly realized that they can’t afford to waste resources, whether it’s a matter of inputs like seed and fertilizer when putting in a crop or material loss during harvest. Considering that fertilizer is one of the most costly investments in a crop, there’s little wonder why a growing number of farmers have chosen to install a scale system on their fertilizer spreader.
According to Nick Von Muenster, President of Scale-Tec, a number of benefits are to be gained by installing a scale on a self-propelled or pull-type fertilizer spreader. Those include the ability to reduce waste, document fertilizer applications, seed cover crops with greater precision and more.
One of the biggest reasons to add a scale to the spreader box, Von Muenster says, is that it allows the operator to easily establish the correct application rate and quickly change the rate as conditions change, thereby saving money.
“The density of material is critical to the application rate,” he says. “However, in nearly every situation, fertilizer is being pulled off a big pile, whether it’s on the farm or at the ag retailer. The problem is, as soon as the moisture content in that pile changes, so does the density. To make matters worse, most fertilizer spreaders are calibrated only once a year, typically at the beginning of the season.”
Obviously, if spreader calibration is performed by the machinery dealer, it involves extra expense. Plus, without a scale, it’s necessary to empty the entire spreader, whether calibration is done by the producer or the dealer. That means downtime, which is seldom convenient during the season, even if changing conditions warrant it.
Calibration can then be done in one of two ways. The first is to divide the weight of the load (assuming you can obtain that via a drive-on scale before and after application) by the number of acres recorded by the GPS monitor. The other is to remove the spinners and run the spreader in a stationary position to collect and measure the amount of fertilizer applied per minute. Both methods require extra expense and the time involved in driving to and from a scale.
The far simpler way, Von Muenster explains, is to measure out approximately five acres while making a fertilizer application. Then, simply check the monitor on the scale system to calculate pounds per acre, based on the number of pounds that have been spread, and adjust the rate accordingly.
“It’s wonderful to be able to calibrate your machine in the field. It’s a lot quicker and a lot more accurate,” says custom applicator Adam Allen, who operates a John Deere 4930 and New Leader dry box applicator in Pocahontas, Iowa. “Before I got the scale, it was hard to stay on top of exactly what I was putting on per acre. It seemed like there was a lot of inconsistency on how it was going out—from varying product densities to various retailers’ product weighing and spreading in different ways, and even weather conditions.”
However, easier calibration is just one of the talents and benefits of a Scale-Tec scale mounted on a fertilizer spreader.
Buy fertilizer in bulk
By purchasing your own fertilizer product directly and applying it yourself, you can generally save at least $10 per acre. Albert Martin, who farms near Springville, Iowa, says they decided a few years ago to buy their own fertilizer spreader and a Scale-Tec scale so they could buy directly from a large processor on the Mississippi River and apply it themselves. “If you’re buying so many pounds of fertilizer, you want to know that you’re getting those pounds,” he says. “The cost savings have been tremendous.”
Accurately seed cover crops
“Cover crops are even more of a challenge when it comes to getting the right rate,” Von Muenster says. “That’s because cover crops usually consist of several different varieties with different-size seeds, so having a scale on the spreader is even more important, as it allows you to know exactly how much seed you’re applying per acre.”
Reduce waste and expense
Factors such as the granular size of the product, density of the product and major weather events all affect how the granules fall from the spreader. Maximizing accuracy will save you the costs of under-application or over-application. As an example, if fertilizer costs are $130 per acre, an error of just 6 percent over-application will cost approximately $7,800 on 1,000 acres. On the other hand, an under-application of 6 percent can hurt the yield, particularly if growing conditions are ideal that year.
Farmers are increasingly being scrutinized for fertilizer applications that are washed off the field into waterways. In fact, several states, including California and some of the states in the Chesapeake Bay area, have passed legislation on fertilizer use that requires accurate information on the amount of fertilizer applied. Information on fertilizer sales, however, is not an accurate indicator of fertilizer application. A scale on the fertilizer hopper not only shows how much fertilizer has been actually applied but also provides documentation that can prove it.
Increase commercial business
With increased frequency, commercial applicators who have a scale on their machine and can provide customers with documentation hold an advantage over their competitors. “I think it gives my customers peace of mind,” Allen adds. “Some of my customers ask questions about how I do the spreading. I tell them I have a scale on the machine and I have it set so if they order 150 pounds an acre, that’s exactly what they’re getting. And I’ve got the scale to back it up.”
Check out our line of fertilizer spreader kits to find a scale kit that fits most popular pull-type and self-propelled models. Visit our fertilizer solutions page or contact us to learn more about how a scale system can benefit your operation.