Bauer Rainstar reels perform key role in major irrigation project

A Norfolk potato grower whose enthusiasm for the principle of ‘low food miles’ inspired a major irrigation project in west Norfolk has taken delivery of a dozen large hose reels to bring his vision to reality.

Ian Mason will use the equipment to irrigate potatoes being grown for the first time on light land across three farming enterprises that collaborated to install the irrigation infrastructure.

Tony Freezer of A J Freezer Water Services, Swaffham designed the scheme, which will provide water to more than 2000ha (5000 acres) cropped by J & C Farms (the agricultural arm of Gayton Estate), Westacre Farms, and C E Cross & Son at Great Barn Farm near Swaffham, a tenant of the Westacre Estate.

“It’s the largest single project I’ve ever been involved with,” says Mr Freezer. “We have a few larger farm irrigation schemes in the area but they’ve been built up over the years; it’s unusual to have something of this scale installed in one go.”

The estates and farm businesses formed the Heronhill Water partnership after Ian Mason approached them to rent land for growing potatoes. Heronhill Water handles the considerable investment of the partners and the grant aid they were awarded by East of England Development Agency.

The scheme involves two new reservoirs of 80 million and 100 million gallons capacity and 47km of 160mm, 200mm and 250mm underground ring mains. These will deliver water to a dozen Bauer Rainstar E51 irrigation reels that Ian Mason has purchased through A J Freezer Water Services.

“It’s the culmination of a project that was just an idea two years ago and is now getting closer to reality by the day,” said Mr Mason when he took delivery of the irrigation reels. “We’ll grow potatoes on land that hasn’t been able to grow the crop before, ready to supply outlets just a few miles up the road.”

Ian Mason Contractors typically grows 600ha (1480 acres) of potatoes on rented land in the area and this year around half of that will be planted in fields serviced by the new irrigation scheme. Main outlets are crisp maker Kettle Foods at Norwich and processor Lamb Weston at Wisbech. A smaller percentage of production is sold through retail packer Manor Fresh at Spalding.

“The new fleet of Bauer Rainstar reel irrigators will be kept busy through the growing season so we had to be sure of buying equipment that’s up to the job,” Mr Mason says. “Together with the people who’ll be using them every day, we weighed up the merits of the different makes of reel we run now – the Bauer equipment got a unanimous vote. It’s strong, straight-forward and easy to move between runs, and the service we get from Tony Freezer is first class.

The Rainstar E51 is the second biggest irrigation reel in Bauer’s flagship range and is especially well-suited to potatoes because of the high tractive force its water turbine drive achieves. A 110mm diameter, 650m hose configuration was chosen to meet Ian Mason’s requirements, using Bauer’s strong and durable 12.6mm wall thickness polyethylene (PE) hose.

Tandem axle wheel equipment with flotation tyres was added to the standard build to ensure stability during moves and minimise impact on the soil – each reel weighs 10 tonnes when full of water. Also, the raingun has a variable angle feature to lower its trajectory on windy days and so combat drift.

Once the required application rate has been entered into the Ecostar 4000S management computer, which is powered by battery with solar panel recharging, reel-in speeds are automatically regulated to achieve accurate application rates and to compensate for any fluctuation in water pressure.

“The biggest technical challenge in designing the scheme was the complex hydraulic flow calculations for the pumping systems to transport water over such a large area and cope with up to 65m field elevations,” says Tony Freezer. “It’ll be good to see the scheme up and running this spring after all the work that’s gone into it.”