Dr. Jason Deveau (@spray_guy) has been the OMAFRA Application Technology Specialist since '08. He researches and teaches methods to improve the safe, effective and efficient application of agricultural sprays in specialty crops, field crops and controlled environments. He is the co-administrator of Sprayers101, co-author of the Airblast101 Textbook, a slow cyclist and a slower runner.
Any description of airblast sprayer start-up must, contextually, make assumptions on how it was winterized for long-term storage. This cyclic relationship is why I use a chicken-and-egg title slide when giving this presentation.
The inability to describe one process without the other is further complicated by the possibility that the sprayer is brand new and was therefore never winterized. So, what follows is an attempt at a logical sequence of pre-season maintenance activities to restore a winterized sprayer, or initiate a new sprayer.
If this is a new sprayer, you have an opportunity to perform some preventative maintenance.
Winterizing (Long-term storage)
If you are preparing the sprayer for long-term storage, follow the normal rinsing process, but don’t reinstall strainers and nozzles.
With the agitation on, circulate undiluted plumbing antifreeze (the sprayer already has 5-10 L (1.25-2.5 gallons) of water in the system from the decontamination process) for five minutes and drain it through the plumbing system (not the booms).
Most operators are guilty of neglecting their airblast sprayers and babying their tractors. Sprayers are precision tools that must be kept in good operating order to prevent costly breakdowns, improve their performance, and increase their lifespan.
Your car is serviced based on distance travelled. Your sprayer should receive regular maintenance based on working hours, per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Daily sprayer inspections are part of regular maintenance since the operator will (hopefully) find small problems before they become big problems.
Never assume your sprayers is ready to go right out of long-term storage. Parts seize, scale breaks away from surfaces, and small beasties sometimes choose to eat, or make their homes in, cozy sprayers.
Pump specific maintenance is beyond the scope of this article. HyPro recommends changing oil after 40 hours of break-in operation and every 500 hours after that. The diaphragms should be replaced every 1,000 hours. Generally speaking, EPDM (black) diaphragms are a better choice for airblast sprayers, while the Desmopan (amber) diaphragms are really for lawn care sprayers.
At minimum, check the tire pressure. Hard tires drive faster, but leave compacted ruts. Soft tires drive slower, but disperse weight better. Airblast sprayer wheel assemblies should be cleaned and inspected as part of regular annual maintenance. Wheel bearing maintenance before long-term storage may prevent water from corroding the bearings.
The relief valve on your sprayer should always be in the bypass position during start-up. If your gauge spikes then the gauge may always read high afterwards and should be replaced.
Replacing leaking, opaque or inaccurate guages improves sprayer performance. Be sure to use the oil-filled variety of gauge to eliminate a bouncing needle. You can also get suppressors that fit between the gauge and sprayer to prevent pulsing. Consult the article on testing airblast pressure gauge reliability.
Many spray materials do not mix well and one of the common causes of uneven application is poor agitation. If you find deposits at the sump in the bottom of the sprayer after an application, your agitation is insufficient. For mechanical agitators, check for propeller wear and ensure paddles are secure on the agitator shaft. Learn more about agitation here.
If the agitator shaft is leaking a little, tighten the packing. The packing gland is a common source of leaks. Keep it properly greased. If a leak occurs you can usually repair it by tightening the bolts on the packing gland by ½ a turn, but if that doesn’t work you may have to remove and repack (or replace) it.
The last step is calibrating the sprayer, and that process really depends on your definition. If the preceding steps conflict with those of the manufacturer’s, always follow the manufacturer’s. Do this for reasons of safety and to preserve any warranty.
Thanks to Fred Whitford (Purdue University), Gail Amos and Mark Ledebuhr (Application Insight LLC) for reviewing the content of this article and for their helpful edits.