Samco strikes gold with machinery to aid maize production
05 September 2013
Brought up on the family farm, in Adare, Co Limerick, self-taught engineer Samuel Shine inherited the family dairy farm of 110 acres from his late father in 1978. Over the following two decades, he saw at first hand the difficulties faced by Irish farmers in preserving grass silage.
“During the late 1980s, I had a large silage-contracting business in Munster called SJS Contracting. I saw that one of the biggest issues was grass silage preservation, so I started doing some research into the possibility of growing different crops,” said Shine, chief executive of Samco Agricultural Manufacturing. “Maize seemed to be a good option and, as a result, the contracting business began to move into sowing and harvesting maize.”
Shine started to investigate the possibility of designing a machine to optimise maize growing in Ireland. In 1997, he developed the first prototype of a machine that would become the Samco System. He launched the Samco System 3-in-1 machine, which integrated three machines into one in order to guarantee Irish farmers a crop of quality forage maize in this country’s cool climate.
The machine sows maize seed, sprays a pre-emergence herbicide on the soil to prevent weed growth and then lays a thin layer of degradable mulch film over the soil. It forms a seed channel under the film, creating an ideal microclimate for the seed to germinate and grow, increasing soil and air temperature and protecting the young seedling from adverse weather and late frosts.
Samco carries out many trials each year in order to test various elements of the Samco system including maize varieties, herbicide for weed control and degradable film formulations. At the end of the season, each variety is weighed and a sample is taken to test dry matter and starch yield per hectare. On each trial site, a selection of herbicides are tested to ensure season long control of weeds under the Samco System.
THREE MACHINES IN ONE
- Forage maize – in less favourable sites, where average temperatures are low for forage maize growing, the system can increase accumulated heat units by an extra 300 units, which allows the customer to grow a successful crop of forage maize;
- Grain maize – in warmer climates, the Samco system allows a later maturing, higher yielding variety to be sown earlier than normal.
Sowing can start at the end of March or early April, and this extra growing time ensures that the crop is well established for the growing season. When the growing season is complete, the crop has plenty of time to transfer all the sugar from the plant into the grain before the autumn frost begins.
Trials have shown that certain varieties perform better than others under the Samco System. Each variety is tested over three years of trials to access the yield potential of the forage and grain per hectare; this ensures the grower has a successful crop every year. The Samco 3-in-1 machine comes in three sizes: two-, four- and six-row. The new, narrow spacing six-row machine is ideal for grain harvesting where row widths are important for large harvesting equipment.
FROM THE LAB TO THE FIELD
Samco has spent many years designing its pinhole degradable film for the system. A wide range of polymer formulations are tested in the laboratory, as well as field trials, to ensure correct film is supplied for the region.
The product has to be strong enough to lay on the soil and yet weak enough to allow the plants to emerge at the correct growth stage. The film is also tested for its degradability. As a result, Samco has designed a film that is suitable for many soil types and climatic conditions. The film’s pin-hole design has many functions – during sowing, it allows trapped air to escape, keeping the film tight to the soil.
In the vital first six weeks of the plant’s life, the pin-holes allow high temperature to escape, keeping the young plant in a perfect growing environment until the plants are ready to break through. In warmer climates, the film prevents evaporation from the soil where valuable moisture is needed for early root and plant growth.
Speed of degradability depends on when the crop is sown and the type of soil but, in most cases, some 90% of the film will be degraded within the first season and the plastic buried in the soil will fully degrade within two years. Each Samco roll of film comes with a patented green insert and is specially designed to fit correctly to the Samco 3-in-1 machine. The Samco film is supplied with different ventilation patterns for different climates and is colour-coded for identification.
Samco manufactures other items of machinery to complement the Samco system. Its field lift prepares the ground for sowing by breaking up compacted sub-soil, improving drainage. The Samco bag press can then be used for on-farm storage for maize.
It has not all been plain sailing for Samco. “When we first produced degradable film, we found that it wasn’t suitable for the system,” explained Shine. “That was a tough time, but we turned it around by further developing our product on the strength of the film that had previously been made.”
Shine was advised many times to invest in a large manufacturing unit, but instead decided to subcontract out some of its manufacture. “We invested in building a strong team in Samco, rather than outsource, and that has worked well for us because it means that the team has been able to develop the necessary skillsets to progress the company.
“We’ve expanded steadily and this has meant that our staff could train and become experts in all the different departments of our manufacturing unit, from assembly to painting as well as field experience in how the machine operates,” he added. “We’ve been able to send staff members around the world to set up new clients and train others in the technical and operational side of our machines.”
Samco employs 28 people in Tuogh, just outside of Adare. Last year, some 85% of maize in Ireland was grown using the Samco System and the company predicts that this will continue to grow after 2015, when milk quotas are proposed to finish.
But the company has expanded well beyond Ireland and Samco has supplied over 500 machines worldwide. According to Shine, the Samco System has given the company’s clients an opportunity to produce a high energy, high yielding home grown animal feed in regions around the world where it was previously very difficult and in some cases simply impossible. Indeed, this year, some 90% of production is set to be exported to England, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Russia and Canada.
Expansion into China is also on the cards – Samco recently signed an agreement in the presence of Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food, and Irish Ambassador to China, Declan Kelleher, with Dupont Pioneer in China for the supply of Samco machines and film for the Chinese market. Last June, Shine also signed an agreement with Cavac, a large co-operative in Brittany to supply Samco machines and film to customers in the Vonde region of France.
The plan for the future is to continue to expand and develop the system to improve the overall production of maize worldwide. “In the short term, we’re now preparing for an increase of 30% production in 2014,” said Shine. “It’s hard work, and you need plenty of motivation and of course cashflow, but the dedication definitely pays off.”
Samco’s top team are: Robert Shine, director and agricultural engineer (Tralee IT); Joe Deegan, agricultural engineer (Tralee IT); and Paudie Fehin, agricultural engineer (ex Harper Adams UK). Alan Acheson has recently joined the team as agricultural & mechanical engineer (Limerick Institute of Technology and University of Limerick).