Gear up – Throttle down

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About Jason Deveau (Spray_Guy)

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.

See all posts by Jason Deveau (Spray_Guy).

In 1977, David Shelton and Kenneth Von Bargen (University of Nebraska) published an article called “10-1977 CC279 Gear Up – Throttle Down”. It described the merits of reducing tractor rpm’s for trailed implements that didn’t need 540 rpm to operate. In 2001 (republished in 2009), Robert Grisso (Extension Engineer with Virginia Cooperative Extension) described the same fuel-saving practice. Again, it was noted that many PTO-driven farm implements don’t need full tractor power, so why waste the fuel? He tested shifting to a higher tractor gear and slowing engine speed to maintain the desired ground speed. 700 diesel tractors were tested, and as long as the equipment could operate at a lower PTO speed and the tractor itself didn’t lug (i.e. overload), as much as 40% of the diesel was saved.

How this applies to Airblast

For airblast operators with PTO-driven sprayers and positive-displacement pumps, this has potential for reducing air energy. Gearing up and throttling down (GUTD) sees the operator reducing the PTO speed from 540 rpm to somewhere between 350-375 rpms, which not only saves fuel but more importantly slows the fan speed. This may be an option when air energy from the sprayer, even at higher travel speeds and a low fan gear, still overblows the target canopy.

Some airblast sprayers, like this one, feature fan blades with adjustable pitch to increase or lower air volume and speed. It’s often a pain to try to adjust them, and most operators only try it once.
Some airblast sprayers, like this one, feature fan blades with manually-adjustable pitch to increase or lower air volume and speed. It’s often a pain to try to adjust them, and most operators only try it once.

A good time to try this out is early in the spraying season when (most) canopies are dormant and at their most sparse. For example, when applying dormant sprays in apple orchards, look to see if the wood on the sprayer-side gets wet, but does not creep around the sides. This suggests that the air, and much of it’s droplet payload, are being deflected. When the air speed is slowed, it will become more diffuse and turbulent on target surfaces, and this turbulence helps more droplets deposit in a panoramic fashion within (not past) the target canopy. Look to see if the wood is wet >50% around the circumference of the branches. You’ll get the rest when you spray form the other side.

Limitations

GUTD is not always appropriate. It requires airblast sprayers with PTO-driven positive displacement pumps (e.g. diaphragm). Airblast sprayers with centrifugal pumps would experience a drop in operating pressure and would have to be re-nozzled. Further, the pump must have sufficient surplus capacity to maintain pressure at low rpms.

GUTD is not intended for air-shear sprayers that employ twin-fluid nozzles because dropping air speed below a certain threshold may compromise spray quality; the air needs to be fast enough to create and direct spray droplets

The tractor must have sufficient horsepower (more than 25% in excess of minimally-required capacity) to permit the reduction in engine torque. This is especially important if the operator is on hilly terrain. If the tractor begins to lug (e.g. black smoke, sluggish response, strange sounds) you’ll be in trouble.

Observations

We first experimented with GUTD in 2013. We noticed how much quieter the sprayer was, and the fuel consumption was certainly reduced. One grower-cooperator switched to a GUTD spray strategy mid-way through their dormant oil application in pears. We saw the trees immediately began to drip. Panoramic coverage was improved significantly; once the operator passed down the other side of the target, capillary action and surface tension helped to give near-complete coverage.

However, in one instance, the operator was already applying a low spray volume per hectare using air induction nozzles and their lowest fan gear. By further slowing fan speed using GUTD, coverage at the top of his cherry trees was compromised.

In short, GUTD can work under the right circumstances. If you want to try it, use water-sensitive paper to establish a base-line with your current practice, and then evaluate coverage after you change your sprayer settings.