Lely has developed what it has called the ‘Sphere’ to increase the precision of slurry as a fertiliser, but it can also reduce ammonia emissions by up to 77%.

Agriland got to see the Sphere system in operation on a Dutch dairy farm this past week, where it has been operating since June 2020.

Farm Nescio has 185 cows, producing 1.7 million litres of milk on four Lely Astronauts.

In fact, it was the first farm to install a Lely milking robot in 1992.

Lely Sphere

Henk van Dongen, the head of manure with Lely, said the Sphere was originally developed for precision fertiliser, with the original aim of splitting the nutrients within the slurry to feed the plant at the right time.

During different stages the plant requires different nutrients, so the aim was to have these nutrients separated for use when needed.

There is ongoing research taking place to determine the best way that the nutrients can be used to maximise grass production.

As the Lely Sphere was being introduced, the discussion around ammonia emissions from agricultural also started in the Netherlands, and many people believe this is why Lely developed the Sphere.

The Sphere’s end capsule

The Sphere is not one machine, it is a total concept of the end capsule, in combination with the collectors, and the strips in the slated floor.

Precision fertiliser

Slurry contains three main components: Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Individually, these play a key role in growing crops.

But according to Lely, in order to get the most benefit from these nutrients they need to be seperated.

The mixing of urine and manure also produces emissions in the form of ammonia.

The Lely Sphere separates these nutrients at the source, so that they can be used to their full potential.

How its works is that the slatted floor of the shed is closed using strips that have small holes that allow the urine to pass through.

The manure remains on the slurry, which is where the emission reduction is achieved as it stops the urea in the urine turning into ammonia.

The manure is collected within two hours by a Lely collector and is dumped in a siphon, which seals the air from the pit.

The end capsule creates a negative pressure in the pit. Air and manure gases that occur on top of the soil are sucked in through the small holes in the separation strips.

This ventilation action results in there being no ammonia smell in the shed, which was noticeable on the farm.

The end capsule contains a filter which the air passes through, where the ammonia is captured using acidified water.

The end capsule can use either sulphuric acid or nitrite acid – both being effective.

The difference is in the fertiliser that is produced; nitrite acid provides more nitrogen, while sulphuric acid adds sulphur.

Along with the liquid-nitrogen fertiliser produced by the end capsule, you also have the organic manure that contains nitrogen and phosphorus – while the remaining urine contains mainly potassium.

Liquid nitrogen fertiliser storage

These farm-made fertilisers can then be applied more precisely compared to slurry – and with lower emissions.

Farm Nescio

Farm Nescio has two end-capsules on the farm. According to van Dongen, for every 400m of slatted floor you need an end capsule.

But only one master end-capsule is required and the remaining are side end-capsules.

Henk van Dongen, the head of manure with Lely.
The first jar contains slurry, the second contains manure from the Sphere,
the third contains urine from the Sphere and the fourth is the liquid fertiliser

Van Dongen said that after inviting farmers to purchase Lely Sphere, within two weeks, 600 farmers expressed their interest.

They came and saw the Sphere is operation and the only question according to van Dongen was ‘can you promise me that I will be a farmer in 20 years and I will sign now’.

The only thing that these farmers ask is that the Dutch government gives clearance to be a farmer, in a world of increasing environmental pressure on farmers

Van Dongen said that they have tried to show the Dutch government the role this could play on reducing emissions from agriculture.

The Sphere, based on a shed that is suitable for 120 cows, will have a starting cost of €180,000.