A series of tough years in eastern Australia has underpinned interest in the use of spreaders for alternative fertilisers and soil ameliorants.
Eastern Spreaders service manager Rodney Sitters said in southern markets, soil amelioration products, such as lime, were driving sales of variable rate spreaders.
"There are a lot of farmers with soil acidity issues who want to ensure they are only putting the lime where the pH is low," he said.
"They won't necessarily use less lime overall, but they will only put it where they need it.
"The trend for variable rate urea seems to be more in areas like the Mallee in Victoria, though there is a little bit in NSW as well."
Mr Sitters said drought conditions were driving farmers to look for efficiencies in rate and application.
"With the ordinary years farmers have had they want to put it where they need it so they get a good yield over the whole paddock," he said.
Mr Sitters said variable rate technology had particularly become more established in fertiliser and amelioration spreading equipment, driving both sales of new spreaders with variable rate capability as well as after market kits for older machinery.
"We have fitted a lot of update kits to existing Marshall spreaders this year," he said.
"The farmer may have already had the spreader for a while, it could be twenty years old, but we can fit a variable rate kit to it and control it with an iPad."
Mr Sitters said many farmers were flexible with the source of their nutrients and a belt spreader would meet that need.
"There are a lot of different products, you can even get pelletised chook manure now," he said.
"With urea at over $700 a tonne this year, some farmers are looking at substitutes."
Mr Sitters said another issue farmers faced was the variability of granulated products, such as urea, in Australia.
"It has an effect on spreader efficacy, but it depended on the season," he said.
"Everyone is trying to get their spread widths out to 36 metres or more and it is very hard for a spreader to apply an inconsistent product that wide.
"You can set the machine with one load of product, then on the same day switch loads and have a totally different spread width.
"There is a lack of consistency in the material."
Mr Sitters said for some products farmers needed to reduce their spread width to ensure a good pattern was achieved, however that led to issues with wheel tracks.
"If you are on tramlines you can't just go back two or three metres if your product changes, in most instances you will need to go back 12m," he said.
Spreader for all seasons
Farmers investing in a spreader need to consider what they are likely to spread, now and into the future.
Eastern Spreaders service manager Rodney Sitters said in the company's primary brand, the Marshall Multispread, models were available in capacities from 2.5 to 16 tonnes.
"While the 2.5t is our lightest model and has a slightly smaller drive gear, models between 4.5 to 12t have the same drive system and replacement parts are very similar," he said.
Mr Sitters said the multispread belt system allowed farmers to have flexibility of product choice.
"You can go from a granular product to bulk manure in two minutes, it's so simple to change the set up," he said.
Mr Sitters advised that before a farmer purchased a spreader they needed to get a handle on its primary use.
"While moisture is not a huge issue when running manure through the Marshall spreaders, it is something to consider. The wetter the manure is the easier it runs, but if you have straw in it that is when it will hold up," he said.
"In those instances you need to move to a muck spreader. We import the Ktwo for those sort of jobs. It will allow you to spread bulk loads of manure. The Marshall will do it but it is going to be slower and not as easy."
Mr Sitters said for moving between granular products and manure, the 800 series included a chain belt floor.
"It means you don't have the problem with the belt running sidewards or slipping, but we do an endless belt version to."
Mr Sitters said farmers did not need to buy a new machine to take advantage of variable rate technology.
"Eastern Spreaders can retrofit I4M technology to existing machines in the field, up to twenty years old, for a very similar price as a new machine," he said.