The Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA) is to launch a nationwide fertiliser spreader testing protocol to ensure all spreaders – disc, boom and pendulum - are tested to the same exacting standard.

Called the National Spreader Testing Scheme, it sits alongside the AEA’s proven National Sprayer Testing Scheme, and takes on board economic, environmental and compliance issues to deliver a national standard for fertiliser spreader tests.

“While the immediate impact of inaccurate spreading is financial, there are also concerns that different test mechanisms – or no test at all - can also affect conservation field margins and lead to contamination of water courses,” explains NSTS manager Duncan Russell.

According to Defra’s fertiliser manual (RB209), fertiliser spreaders should be regularly maintained and serviced, replacing worn out parts as necessary. To check spreading uniformity, trays should be used to allow a coefficient of variation across the spreading pattern to be determined.

A coefficient of variation above 20% will lead to visible striping in crops. And as this figure increases from 20-30%, crop yields in wheat and oilseed rape for example, are likely to be reduced. Even those with no visible stripes in their crops are not guaranteed that fertiliser is being evenly distributed across the desired working width.

“By developing a universal spreader test, which should be carried out at least once a year when applying recommended fertiliser rates to crops, this new NSTS scheme can ensure that best practice is being observed,” he says. “You won’t know if spreading is right or wrong, unless you have your spreader tray tested.”

Supported nationally by fertiliser spreader manufacturers, this industry initiative has been created to promote more efficient use of fertilisers and help growers to achieve better yields. In addition, further benefits of annual testing includes meeting cross compliance and NVZ regulations, and ultimately delivering peace of mind that fertiliser application is correct.

AEA spreader tests manager, Ian Forman, says the NSTS.org.uk website will carry a list of approved spreader examiners, which will be constantly updated as the scheme evolves, in preparation for fertiliser applications in Spring 2016.

 “We expect that many NSTS-approved sprayer examiners will adopt the spreader test,” he says. “But to be an approved spreader examiner, candidates will need to gain City & Guilds accreditation for fertiliser spreader examination.”

Visit the AEA’s stand at Tillage Live to learn more about the new National Spreader Testing Scheme.