How Low Can You Go?

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About Tom Wolf (Nozzle_Guy)

Tom Wolf is based in Saskatoon, SK and has 33 years research experience in the spraying business. He obtained his BSA (1987) and M.Sc. (1991) in Plant Science at the University of Manitoba, and his Ph.D. (1996) in Agronomy from the Ohio State University. Tom focuses on practical advice that is research-based to improve the efficiency of producers.

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There’s a lot of talk about lowering the boom to reduce drift and make twin fan nozzles more effective. But how low can we actually go with a boom before striping becomes a problem?

We’ve done some calculating and have come up with answers.

First, a few guidelines. Tapered flat fan nozzles require overlap to generate a uniform volume distribution under the boom. Traditionally, we’ve recommended 30 to 50% overlap with fine flat fan sprays. The small droplets tended to redistribute to fill in any gaps that might occur.

Overlap from fine sprays is less critical than from coarser sprays because the small droplets redistribute readily.

The advent of low-drift nozzles changed that advice. This nozzle type produces fewer droplets overall, and, like all fan-style nozzles, puts the coarser ones towards the outside edges of the fan. These don’t redistribute.

A typical flat fan spray places the coarser droplets at its periphery, and the smaller ones in the middle. When only the outed edges overlap, that can creates a band of poor coverage.

When we had 30% overlap and these two edges met, a region of relatively few, coarse droplets was formed, and this region contained almost no small droplets. On a patternator, the volume distribution was still good. But when we measured the droplet density, we saw a deficit in coverage at the overlap.

With low-drift nozzles, we need 100% overlap to distribute both small and large droplets uniformly under the spray swath. Too little overlap and we create bands of relatively few but large droplets that can cause striping.

Since then, we’ve been recommending 100% overlap for low-drift sprays. This means that the pattern width at the target will be twice the nozzle spacing, and all regions under the boom receive droplets from two adjacent nozzles.

With this adjustment, small droplets appeared throughout the spray swath, and striping was eliminated.

That leaves the question, just how low can a boom be set without creating this problem? The following tables provide some theoretical numbers.

Minimum boom heights for achieving 50% and 100% overlap of flat fan spray nozzles (US units)

Minimum boom heights for achieving 50% and 100% overlap of flat fan spray nozzles (metric units)

A word of caution: The advertised fan angle on a sprayer nozzle often differs in practice. Not only will it be slightly different by design, it also depends on spray pressure and tank mix. As a result, it’s best to do a visual check. Set the spray pressure to the minimum you expect to use. Inspect the spray patterns and set the boom height so that the edge of each nozzle pattern reaches to the middle of the next nozzle. That means your pattern width is twice the spacing and will give 100% overlap. No tape measure required.

The tables were generated from a spreadsheet which can be downloaded here:

  • The values are theoretical and assume the fan angles are accurate. Some nozzles don’t produce the advertised fan angle. Enter your actual angle in the spreadsheet if you know it.
  • The theory assumes that the droplets at the edge of the fan always move in their projected direction. In fact, after some distance, say 50 to 75 cm, gravity pulls the droplets down and the pattern no longer widens at the same rate. The rate of pattern collapse depends on the droplet sizes.
  • Use the 0% overlap column to help with banding nozzle pattern width. Simply use the nozzle spacing column to enter your desired band width.
  • Note that angling the nozzles forward or backward decreases your minimum boom height, but depending on the deflection of the spray in the wind, this too has limits.
  • Too high a boom obviously increases drift. But patternation from overlap isn’t affected that much, largely because the pattern is now subject to aerodynamics and that becomes more important.

Pro Tip: Attach a length of plastic hose or a large zip tie to the boom, cut to your minimum boom height. This makes it easier to see what your boom height is, from the cab or the ground.

The bottom line is that a boom can be quite low and still allow excellent overlap and pattern uniformity from the nozzles. Yet we all know that most sprayer booms can’t reliably operate that low because they don’t control sway well enough. The ball’s in your court, sprayer manufacturers!