Taking a leap of faith is more often associated with religion than with agriculture or horticulture but Alf Ganderton and Tony Brasier of Hereford contractors, Underbuster Ltd have put their faith (and quite a lot of money) in a machine that was previously untested in their market.
The Gwazae deep probe aerator has been making quite a name for itself in the turfcare market since R&K Kensett Ltd started importing them from New Zealand but it was a demonstration at the Bulmers' cider orchards that alerted the directors of Underbuster to the potential of the compressed air injection machine in terms of breaking up panning in a commercial fruit market, or indeed under trees anywhere - the original use of the Gwazae in its native New Zealand. "We bought it," explained Tony Brasier "to solve compaction problems in orchards; it's quite an expensive machine to buy and so we are using it as often as possible. The benefits of deep probe aeration are already proven - especially in sports fields - but in this market we are acting like pathfinders really. It's a gut feeling for us and it might be three or four years before results in crop increase might be seen." This same effect can be equally beneficial around a golf course where compaction under trees is difficult to solve given root issues near the surface.
It would be forgivable to expect that Brasier and Ganderton are new kids on the block given their embrace of this new technology but that is not the case, not by a long chalk: "I've spent all my life in agriculture and all agricultural people know the benefits of sub-soiling." Said Brasier who continued, "Until now we've had to use a 'leg-tine' subsoiler but that cuts roots as well as breaking up the pan; no trees like that, especially trees like cherries. Can you imagine leg-tining round an old oak tree, cutting all his roots off? He'd be highly delighted!"
That's the feeling you get when you talk to Brasier - the trees are certainly living things but sometimes you could easily imagine them having feelings and thoughts; perhaps this is one of the reasons that Underbuster have invested in such a tree-friendly machine. That and the dual benefit offered by deep probe aeration, Brasier again: "The drainage benefits of deep probe aeration are there to see: if a drainage system is already installed then we will see a very good result straight away but without drainage it will all depend on the subsoil structure. But regardless of that, we are still aerating around the roots of the trees and breaking up the pan."
This then is what Underbuster's investment is all about - a dual benefit system that can replace leg-tining with a more tree-friendly process. But why the Gwazae rather than another, similar machine? Brasier was typically straightforward on this point: "Well there isn't really any competition to this. There is a static machine that does the same sort of job but that is just too slow for us - it can manage about 50 shots per hour but this can do more than 600. The Gwazae has finally made deep probe aeration a cost-effective method - a 'just-about' cost effective method I hasten to add!"
Brasier might well be being coy on the cost-effectiveness of the Gwazae; at the moment he has a Welsh Borders monopoly on the machine and probably wants to keep it that way. Keith Kensett of R&K Kensett Ltd holds the sole importer tag for Gwazae into Europe and is currently on a near permanent tour of demonstrations across the entire continent; such is his belief that "Once you see it, you'll want one. Everyone that sees the machine in action is blown away, it is obvious what it can do and how fast it can do it. Football pitches, golf courses, orchards, parks - anywhere that wants to decompact and improve drainage will benefit from the Gwazae deep probe aerator. It's that simple."
The science of the tractor mounted machine is very straightforward - one of the reasons that it is so successful. Pneumatic pressure is used to lower the 'spear' bearing arm and the spear is mounted on a trolley wagon that travels backwards along the arm, while the tractor moves forwards.
Compressed air is delivered between 20-130psi for the single probe aerator and 60 - 130 psi for the twin probe aerator, depending on soil type and compaction levels through a high performance compression system via the ground probe that is made of toughened steel.
The depth of soil penetration can be varied between 300mm and 700mm, with even spacings of 1200mm to 2400mm apart, thus avoiding variation in spacing which is often experienced by manually operated aeration systems.
After the air blast spear and arm are retracted automatically and moved to the start position again for another blast - all of this operated simply and quickly.
With the fruit growing regions of Hereford and Worcester taking notice of the Gwazae it probably won't be long before other counties start to get the Gwazae treatment.