Sprayers have gotten faster, but are they better?

Application equipment | Sprayers are bigger, more accurate and expensive but still stuck in the 1950s

EDMONTON — Farmers should expect more from their sprayers.

Tom Wolf of Agrimetrix told farmers attending the FarmTech show in Edmonton last week that the sprayers on the market today still depend largely on technology from the 1950s.

“We are still squeezing a pressurized liquid through an elliptical orifice. We have added a lot of creature comforts to the equipment and can go faster, but mostly that is what we have done,” he said.

“You are spending $400,000 for not a lot more than you had before. You just go faster and longer.”

Wolf said the biggest changes were made in the 1990s when air induction and pulse systems that turn individual nozzles on and off were added or refined.

Air induction nozzles reduce spray pressure at the tip and create coarse and very coarse spray. This improves leaf coverage while reducing the number of droplets in the 200 micron range.

“That technology shifted the majority to the 200 to 600 micron range from 200 to 300,” Wolf said.

“We balance these interests with pressure and are limited by machine speed and the size of the pump.… Machinery guidance has reduced overlap and improved efficiency, but that hasn’t changed the application process.”

The technology that is found in Capstan Ag Systems’ equipment and as an option on Case IH sprayers decouple boom pressure and spray volume by rapidly turning nozzles off and on to control application. It is one of the trends that Wolf feels North American agriculture will see more of in the future.

Improved application research and recommendations from pesticide manufacturers is another trend that Wolf is watching. Some of the latest herbicides that blend 2,4-D or dicamba with glyphosate/glufosinate come with more complete nozzle and pressure recommendations than most products.

“Big droplets are best for many products like glyphosate, but some products want smaller droplets and CropLife (Canada) needs to tell us how to best use their products.”

Wolf said little independent re-search is being done on how to im-prove product efficacy, but he expects chemical companies to begin providing more detailed instructions for producers.

He said boom width is another area where North American farmers will see change.

“Europe offers machines up to 56 metres. Most of ours are 30 and up to 40,” he said.

The largest machines have mostly moved away from nozzle shrouds, but they help prevent negative pressure vortices that are created when equipment speeds increase. Negative pressure zones behind the spray pattern draw out the finest droplets, taking them off target and creating opportunities for drift.

“Large booms can’t handle the weight or the challenge of the (shroud size) in folding,” he said.

Boom materials are also changing.

Agco has worked with universities to develop tough bio-composites, while German sprayer component builder Altek, which manufactures Lechler sprayer nozzles, has developed a 120 foot boom made of aluminum, steel, fibreglass and carbon fibre that weighs 850 pounds. As well, a Brazilian sprayer company has a mostly carbon fibre version.

“They will get lighter and wider,” Wolf said. “That might let you slow down to improve efficacy.”

He said farmers and custom applicators will also demand stainless steel, despite plastic plumbing’s attractive price and ease of repair.

Plastic can absorb chemicals and release them at inopportune times, which could damage crops.

Wolf said more farmers should also be investing in improved automatic boom height control, which allows growers to lower their boom height without the risk of striking the crop or ground.

“We’ve gotten too high and we lose the advantages of some of the great nozzles that are out there,” he said.

“For fungicides, the twin fans lose their advantage when you get too far from the crop.”

He said more twin fan nozzles will be used in the future as more fungicides are required to improve yields.

“European farmers have a lot choices. Not all great, but many good ideas, too,” he said.

Many of Europe’s 40 high clearance sprayer manufacturers share common technologies and provide locally built choices in specific markets, but some offer different boom and spray system options from those found in North America. Wolf said some of that technology will make its way into the market.

Faster loading is one of the ways that sprayers will become more efficient.

Wolf said most nozzle companies are small and don’t have extensive research and development budgets for working on new technology.

He said machines will get better, more comfortable and faster, but “someone needs to think more about the basic technology and deliver some improvements (in efficacy) for the farmer.”

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