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Anatomy of a Tow and Fert: An Interview with Metalform’s Campbell Easton

Anatomy of a Tow and Fert: An Interview with Metalform’s Campbell Easton
In this article we interview Campbell Easton, Managing Director at Metalform about how the Tow and Fert came to be.

It’s been over 15 years since the launch of the first Tow and Fert.  

Tow and Fert started its life in 2009 as a simple idea in the small central North Island town of Dannevirke. Dannevirke is your typical New Zealand country town, no traffic down the main street, a town hall, a pub and a restaurant or two, and now, even a McDonalds (more typical now than then perhaps!). Of course, there are Vikings, but that is a story for another day. In this article we wanted to give you more of an insight into Metalform, the creator, designer, developer and manufacturer of the Tow and Fert and the process they went through.  

We sat down with Campbell Easton, Managing Director of Metalform and asked a few questions:  

Campbell, what prompted the idea of a foliar fert sprayer that could also suspend fine particles etc?  

CE: We had been approached by various farmers who had read about the benefits of the foliar application of fertiliser, at the time there was no machinery available and many farmers had built their own rigs (rather unsuccessfully) or tried their traditional sprayer without any success.  

Can you tell us a little about the design process, how long it took before building the first prototype, successes, failures etc?  

CE: There were a couple of key things we needed to test initially. Firstly was the initial mixing and secondly the best method to keep the product from settling in the boom and blocking the spray nozzles. We actually tried a heap of different methods for mixing, a lot of the early prototypes were failures. We learnt quickly from these failures and eventually prototyped the idea that we later patented and still use today. It was actually the same story for the method to prevent product settling, the early prototypes were pretty rough, but they proved what worked and what didn’t. Eventually we patented our recirculating boom because it was simple and so effective.  

How did you go about developing the production process and assessing the viability of building a machine like this in New Zealand, let alone here in Dannevirke?  

CE: The viability of this product was hard to estimate, we were not simply building a new product in an existing category – we were creating a whole new category! We did our normal market research, but it’s hard to get potential customers to comment on a concept that is vastly different from the machinery that was available in 2009. In the end, we were so impressed by the scientific research around foliar applied fertiliser that we thought we would just go for it.  

That sounds risky! What were some of the biggest design hurdles you had to overcome to ensure the Tow and Fert did what you needed it to do?  

CE: The biggest hurdles were;
1. Mixing to a ratio of one part water to three parts fertiliser, once we cracked this in a cost effective way we patented our design.
2. Stopping the fert particles settling out in all the pipework and booms, likewise when we cracked this one, we also patented our design.  

When you first launched the Tow and Fert what was the reaction from industry like?  

CE: A mixed response initially, some customers had been trying to do their own thing as I mentioned and could immediately see the value of our system, these were early adopters. Other farmers, when introduced to the foliar fert concept, were baffled as to why anyone would want to do that. Their comments were along the lines of “fancy looking machine, but why would I need one?”  

So now, many years on, what is Metalform doing to improve the product and its already high build quality and performance?  

CE: We (Metalform) are strong believers in continuous improvement, as we get more and more machines in the field, our customers find the weak points and we systematically fix these. We also get a lot of good suggestions on additional capabilities from our customers and where possible we build these suggestions into future design releases.  

We’ve seen a lot about farmers needing to innovate and improve efficiency lately, what does the future hold for Tow and Fert?  

CE: We are really excited about this product range, we have noticed a big change in the industry over the last ten years. With farming compliance changes, the possibility of regulation and increased awareness on environmental sustainability, freshwater pollution and the cost savings farmers can make, we think foliar fertiliser application and the Tow and Fert will go from strength to strength. 

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