DARD MANAGEMENT NOTES: Horticulture

Biofilter at Greenmount Campus
Biofilter at Greenmount Campus
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Biofilter at Greenmount Campus: One of the most common challenges, in even the best set up spraying operations, is dealing with spills as well as washings from containers and sprayers.

Biofilters were developed to eliminate or minimise the risk of negative environmental impacts arising from the rinsing and cleaning of sprayers.

What is a biofilter?

Biofilters are basically an organic filter system. They work because pesticides have an affinity for biological matter and so bind to the biomix used. Biomix is generally a mixture of straw, peat free compost and soil. This provides conditions for enhanced microbial degradation of the active ingredients over time. The technology of biofilters for the bioremediation and breakdown of pesticide actives has been proven to be effective through trials carried out across Europe.

Biofilter at Greenmount Campus

The current design of the Greenmount Campus biofilter is based on three Intermediate Bulk Container’s (IBC’s) of a nominal 1000 litre capacity with their tops removed and with the fitting of linked plumbing to allow liquid distribution from the top container to the middle and bottom containers. It is important that the liquid spreads uniformly over the biomix surface within each container.

What can a biofilter treat?

Biofilters are designed to treat non-hazardous pesticide solutions. Examples include small spills and drips that may occur during pesticide handling and mixing, run-off from the pesticide handling area and equipment washings. However, biofilters are not a substitute for best practice and every effort should be made to avoid spills or splashes of pesticide concentrates, for example, always place a drip tray under the induction hopper. Best practice also requires that in most cases, the first set of tank washings is sprayed onto the target crop ensuring the maximum dose is not exceeded.

What are the advantages of a biofilter?

Biofilters offer the following advantages:

A farmer friendly, practical, ‘build it yourself’ method of disposing of left-over pesticides, sprayer tank and other washings.

Most materials required for biofilter construction can be found on-farm or can be easily supplied.

Approved by Government Authorities (currently England, Scotland and Wales).

A relatively small area is required for the complete set up.

Biomix only has to be replaced every five years.

Spent biomix can be recycled on land after the required resting period.

How much does it cost?

Costs vary depending on whether a new handling area is required, the final choice of system, and whether farm labour and /or second hand materials are included in the cost. A typical biofilter system costs from £500 to £1,500.

Benchmarking for horticultural businesses

Benchmarking in horticulture involves recording business costs and comparing them with other businesses. Benchmark results provide detailed management information indicating the strengths and weakness of a business and identification of areas for improvement.

As a horticulture producer, key business decisions are required on an ongoing basis and it is important that these decisions are based on sound facts relating to the physical and financial performance of your business. Benchmarking is an extremely valuable tool to help with this decision making process, should it be short term agronomy decisions to improve production or longer term investment in new crops.

CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus Horticulture Benchmarking Programme is a farm management accounting system that offers you the opportunity to record your production costs and output and compare your results to previous years and with other similar farms.

For any 12 month period, all expenses attributed to your business are recorded. This is mainly covered by your VAT book. To complete the picture, a record of income generated by the business over the same 12 month period is needed.

With your assistance the necessary input sheets are completed during a visit to your business. Data from the input sheets is put into the benchmarking programme and a confidential financial report is generated. The benchmark report provides a complete breakdown of costs of production and all the associated margins for your horticulture business. Most importantly the report also shows averages and best of group for similar growers for comparison purposes.

A key element of the benchmarking process is group feedback for growers in the same sector of horticulture. This is a confidential service available to horticultural producers in Northern Ireland, which can be accessed by contacting your CAFRE Horticulture Development Adviser.