What to look for in a new sprayer

Consider good cleaning, easy filling, the right boom — and ignore colour

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Sprayers are expensive, absurdly so, according to Tom Wolf, Saskatoon-based spray application specialist.

In an Ontario Agricultural Conference seminar with Jason Deveau, application specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Wolf gave his recommendations on what characteristics buyers might want to prioritize before signing on the dotted line.

A few wishlist wants were also shared.

Why it matters: Buyers need to ensure they’re getting a sprayer that addresses their needs, but should prioritize characteristics that avoid some common sprayer problems.

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Most issues with sprayers come from either plumbing or the boom. For Wolf and Deveau, that makes them top of mind in any purchasing decision.

“We almost have to start with the most important part. If I need a new sprayer, I’m going to look for one that has good cleaning and easy filling — that’s fast, thorough cleaning. I’m also going to look for a sprayer that has a good boom and all the boom features that I need,” says Wolf.

“I’m going to care a little bit less about colour, horsepower, even tank size for that matter… those are important but maybe secondary because they’re not the big time-robbers.”

Boom solutions

Boom swaying, for example, can cause significant coverage problems. It’s also a growing issue as boom lengths get longer, and more lightweight materials (aluminum) are used in their construction. A sprayer that can maintain speed while keeping the boom at five centimetres above the crop would be one of his first priorities.

Such solutions are few and far between, but Wolf says the capability is possible if designers are asked to address the problem.

A dream sprayer, he says, would also be able to raise or lower the boom to accommodate changing topography, or at least give the operator advanced notice a change should be made.

Another consideration is how the boom will handle additional weight from lights, cameras, shrouds and other additions, added Deveau.

Time efficiency

When it comes to plumbing, Wolf and Deveau recommend something with continuous rinse capability, whether retrofit or otherwise. In terms of overall design, though, they feel “pretty let down” by most manufacturers.

Plumbing designs tend to be overly complicated and difficult to clean. The potential for in-field issues aside, this amounts to a large waste of time.

The best options in Wolf’s point of view, are systems that can complete a full cleanout within 10 minutes — a standard only achieved by a few designs.

“We have to reduce plumbing back to its origins,” he says.

On the wider subject of time efficiency, the pair recommend operators perform a time accounting to identify how much of the day is wasted doing each spray-related task. That includes everything from driving and filling, to repairing and entering information into onboard monitoring computer systems. This can further help prioritize specific characteristics.

“Almost all the time that is lost unnecessarily is non-spraying time. The biggest user of that is really this filling procedure,” says Wolf, adding the average spraying versus engine time is usually less than 40 per cent.

“You have to measure things to improve them. Measurement is the key.”

Tires, tanks and cabs

The large weights of fully loaded sprayers can be a major contributor to compaction. For this reason, and because of the safety and practicality concerns brought by wide “monster truck” tires, Wolf believes tire inflation systems are a valuable addition to any sprayer.

Additionally, he hopes to see improvements in overall weight distribution.

“Every pound that’s in the frame can’t be in the tank content… I would love to see innovation in frame design and materials.”

The right cab should address the ergonomic and operational needs of the driver, have easy-to-use controls and cabs that can be raised and lowered for ease of use and access. Such options, however, may not be widely available in North America.

Wolf says even little things like a small refrigerated compartment can be of immense value to an individual required to spend the better part of their day in the cab.

In terms of in-cab systems, Wolf says his experience indicates most operators prefer having several monitors that can be quickly glanced at, rather than a single interface requiring manipulation on-the-go. Regardless, monitors should be easily readable.

“The complexity of monitors has gotten out of control just like the cost of sprayers has. We need monitors that people can climb into the cab for the first time and actually use the sprayer without a lesson, or a linked connection to the dealer,” he says.

“That’s a bee in my bonnet. There’s a built-in dependence engineered in the equipment.”

Regarding tanks, both presenters are of two minds whether steel or plastic is the preferred material. While steel is heavier, more costly, and generally has more places for residues to hide, it doesn’t break down like plastic tanks. Conversely, plastic can also be molded to fit more spaces, such as narrow designs favoured by those operating in more confined landscapes.

“Cleaning is really the reason we see the abandonment of rotary molded plastic on larger sprayers,” says Wolf, though he reiterates either can be a good choice.

Other considerations

As self-propelled sprayers become more common, Wolf encourages growers not to dismiss the value of the pull-type. Development may have stalled in North America, but advances in Europe show the technology has potential. Indeed, he says they work very well for most cereal crops.

Operator impact, too, is a cardinal consideration.

“We’ve always said you can do a good job, or a bad job.”

About the author

Contributor

Matt McIntosh

Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.

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