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Industry expert says we’re in a cycle

Tom Wolf offered some observations of today’s sprayers and practices during a presentation

During his public presentation at Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon in January, sprayer expert Tom Wolf, who is part of Agrimetrix Research & Training in Saskatchewan, provided a professional critique of today’s commercially available spraying equipment and on-farm practices.

He told the audience about an early, low-cost sprayer his family put together on their farm many years ago, which just involved mounting a sprayer on a four-wheel drive one-ton truck.

“You know what, it did a great job,” he said. “Now, you’d be lucky to get change from $600,000 (buying a new sprayer), and you’re not doing a better job. You’re compacting the soil; you’re getting stuck more. We’re just in a cycle of solving and creating problems.

“I think the industry has, in some ways, let the farmer down. It’s not all bad news, though. But I’m saying we could do a lot better.”

Wolf made it clear that rather than measure the usefulness of a sprayer by the comfort of its cab, its auto-guidance features, boom width or its tank capacity, he thinks we should evaluate new equipment on its actual ability to get the job done properly.

“The issue in spraying today remains the same,” he said. “That is our task is to apply pesticides uniformly and in a way that produces the desired result, which is weed control, insect control or other things. That is an ongoing challenge.”

And he breaks down that challenge into five general categories:

  • Efficacy;
  • Drift;
  • Productivity;
  • Accuracy; and,
  • Capital cost.

Get the message across

Getting the message across to manufacturers that those are the things that really matter is up to farmers, he suggested. Adding, he thinks they should be more vocal about it.

“It’s on you to make your needs known,” he said. “Your voice is important, and I think there is a role for the farmer to say, ‘You know what, I don’t want a sprayer that costs $300,000 and weighs 35,000 pounds’.”

“I see efficacy as the number one issue. You’re spending money so it has to work.”

When it comes to getting all the product to where it should go, Wolf thinks drift remains a serious concern, and even new machines haven’t done a better job than previous generations of equipment in getting product on the target and minimizing drift. In fact, he sees the opposite.

“Drift issues are getting worse,” he said. “And what have manufacturers done to help that? They’ve made it worse. Why have they made it worse? Because, we’re driving faster and our booms are higher than ever before. If you think there is a nozzle that will let you drive 20 m.p.h. and have a four-foot high boom and have no drift, it’s not going to happen. So we’re not doing that well with drift.”

Downtime in spraying operations also remains a concern, he suggested, noting that more needs to be done to keep sprayers moving.

“In our survey only 45 per cent of the time is spent spraying,” he said. “The rest of the time involves something else. So you have to minimize that downtime.”

And he observed that concern among the non-farming public about chemical use on food products is growing. That means now more than ever it’s the duty of farmers to use chemicals responsibly and efficiently to maintain consumer confidence.

“Can you in good conscience with full eye contact tell someone from the city what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” he asked.

About the author

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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