Futurespread an innovative system for topdressing and sowing pasture

November 2006
Kiwi ingenuity has resulted in a system for spreading fine particle fertilisers, lime and seed accurately onto land in a 30 to 40m wide swath, using a helicopter. Developed by helicopter pilot Mark Williams based in Hawkes Bay, the system involves a modified bucket and spinner, and use of a slurry of fine lime and seed, or a suspension of finely ground fertilisers. A special bucket filling procedure gives a turnaround time of 12 seconds.

With GPS Mark can apply the slurry accurately. Less fertiliser is needed, and it is more rapidly available to plants. With hydroseeding (mixing lime with seed), germination rate is very high compared with conventional sowing. It is, he says, a world first, patented, and has huge potential to lease and/or on-sell the technology. He has been using this system for only a short time and is topdressing/sowing large areas in the Hawkes Bay and Taupo regions.

Mark Williams has been interested in finding a way of applying finely ground fertilisers for about ten years. Farmers had said that they wanted an economic way of putting on fine lime, trace minerals and urea, especially on hill country.

Finely ground fertilisers are said to be more rapidly taken up by soil organisms and available to plants. Problems in the past have included poor mixing of trace elements, losses as the fines blow away during application, uneven application, and relatively high application costs.

Marks system starts with a large mixing unit that can hold up to 8 tonnes of product. The unit has a crushing device that grinds up the material as it goes into the tank, and it is then mixed well with 15 - 20% water giving it the consistency of porridge.

A filler bucket is then loaded, the helicopter comes along and filler bucket fits inside the empty one, a valve is opened to fill the helicopter's bucket, and off it goes. Turnaround time is about 12 seconds.

The bucket has a spinner that throws the material out in a 30m to 40m swath. Slurries containing seed will spread consistently wider because of the weight of the seeds. Use of GPS allows very accurate coverage of areas, and the downdraft from the helicopter blades helps stick the fertiliser and seed to the ground.

The system works well on flat land and also on hill country where ground spreading is difficult, inaccurate and expensive. Standard fertiliser application gives a 30% variation, but the Futurespread system is less than 10% according to Corey Martin, marketing manager.

As far as quality of application is concerned it is pretty much unbeatable, and we

will be the first aerial applicators and the country to apply for Spreadmark accreditation, says Corey.

This is pretty much a world first, and it has been patented. If you look at how they do hydroseeding around the world they use a Sikorsky Skycrane, which is a very large helicopter, that picks up a 40 foot container that is full of slurry and open trapdoors and the material goes down a slip face. Our bucket is smaller and lighter and so we can use a small helicopter, and our spreading technology is way superior.

A traditional form of ground-based hydroseeding has been used in New Zealand bare faces of cuttings on roadsides. There are also boom systems that can be used for sowing very small seeds like clover, whereas the Futurespread system can be used for large seeds or seed mixes applied at low rates.

In an extensive trial near Taupo last November about 30g of seed/ha was put on, along with a mix of lime, nitrogen and trace minerals.

The owners were amazed that the response we achieved. What the lime is doing is coating the seed and blasting it down so it adheres to the surface, says Corey.

The lime brings earthworms to the surface, that makes the top part of the soil very friable and the seeds find it easy to penetrate into the ground. The strike rate is as high as 80 to 90%.

Other advantages over conventional ground spreading include:

Halving the cost of applications onto hill country

Even coverage of uneven ground, the seed and fertilisers being blasted into dips and hollows.

Rapid application rate

No problems if the ground is wet, no soil compaction, reduced runoff.

Precise placement of the correct amounts from 50 500kg/ha

Accurate mixing of finely ground minerals (100%

Mixtures of lime and urea are possible to balance acidity

Also suitable for DAP, RPR, Gypsum, Dolomite, elemental sulphur, and a range of trace elements.

Seaweed fertilisers can be used in place of water to for the slurry

More rapid pasture response

Less fertiliser is needed to give the same response.

Futurespread works with all fertilser companies and will obtain quotes from them for farmers. Although they will place the order, the farmer can buy direct from the fertiliser company Futurespread does not clip the ticket says Corey.

Last year we did 15,000 hectares in Hawke's Bay applying fine particle fertilisers urea, DAT blends or lime flour blends. This season we have done about 10,000 ha so far in Hawkes Bay alone, he says.

We expect to be a nationally recognised company within the next two or three years, and we are going to build more gear and lease it out to other approved operators.