Plumbing Projects That Make Spraying Easier and Safer

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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.

See all posts by Tom Wolf (Nozzle_Guy).

Some of our biggest struggles in spraying involve the start and end of each spray day.

When starting a new field after the sprayer is cleaned, we need to prime the boom. If it’s full of water, that water has to be purged and the question is always for how long and where to do this (pro tip at bottom of article).

At the end of the day, we should ideally clean the sprayer. During that process, we may struggle with waste disposal, including large rinsate amounts, and course, the uncertainty of whether the job is actually done (since clean water looks exactly the same as contaminated water).

If not cleaning the entire sprayer plumbing, we should at least rinse the boom, even if we’re returning to the same product the following day. It can prevent future problems.

These tasks are complicated by the increasingly convoluted plumbing featured on modern sprayers. Ask someone to explain their sprayer’s plumbing system to you one day. It’s a long story! A bright spot is the well-engineered, compact, and accessible Agrifac system.

Fortunately, virtually any sprayer can be modified to suit your needs. Let’s talk about a few ideas for a winter project:

  1. Boom flush. It’s good practice to flush clean water through your boom at the end of spraying even if the main tank remains full of product. Some sprayers have an air purge system to eliminate liquid from the plumbing and that is a great feature. A water flush should follow that purge so that any residual pesticide is diluted and removed before it can dry on and become hard to remove later.  First you’ll need a clean water tank on the sprayer (150 gal is enough). Second, plumb a feed so that this clean tank can be the sole source of the water supplied to the solution pump. Select this source, shut return lines down or off, and pump clean water through boom.  Sprayers that have an auto-rinse cycle will likely be able to draw clean water, but may not be able to push it to the boom, directing it to the wash-down nozzles instead. Check to see what’s possible, and make the changes you need.
  2. Clean water pump. Installing a second pump dedicated to the clean water tank has several advantages. We’ve talked about continuous rinsing before, here, and here, as a way to dilute the tank remainder faster. It requires installation of a second pump dedicated to clean water. Additionally, give this pump the option to deliver water to the boom, not just the wash-down nozzles. Now it can be used to rinse water through the boom. The main challenge is to obtain a pump capacity that can match the needs of the boom and/or the wash-down nozzles.
  3. Boom ends. We’ve mentioned this part of the boom many times. Boom ends must be flushed regularly to get rid of product and possibly debris that gets stuck there. A simple way to achieve this is to use the Express Nozzle Body End Caps from Hypro. These bleed air continuously, and also prevent accumulation of dead-end contamination. They do need to be flushed, and this can be done by pulling a plug or rotating the turret to an open (no nozzle ) position.
  1. Recirculating boom. This is a significant change, but worth considering. Conventional plumbed booms are separated into five to 13 sections. Each has two ends at which the spray stops and where air and contamination can accumulate (see point #3). Each section feed has a shutoff valve.  Once the spray mixture leaves the pump and bypass valve, it is committed to leaving the sprayer.  In a recirculating boom, the boom becomes a part of the tank and the liquid can return to the tank if desired. Spray is pressurized at one or both ends, and valve positions determine its flow. Sectional control is achieved with individual nozzle shutoff, air or electric.
    1. Three advantages:
      (a) the boom can be primed with new product without spraying. The surplus goes back to the tank.
      (b) the boom can be flushed with water without spraying while material is still in tank, and without spilling anything on the ground. Again, the surplus goes back to the tank.
      (c)  high resolution sectional control with individual nozzle shutoff is a byproduct of this design. Fast response, high res, saves money.
  2. Steel lines. Steel cleans easier than plastic, and this material makes a lot of sense for booms. But it also makes sense for the boom feeds, currently handled by black rubber hose.  This hose is a literal black box. We can’t see inside it, and we don’t know if and where potential contamination resides. It has considerable surface area. Consider replacing portions of your feed lines with steel. The boom is the obvious candidate. Aside from easier cleanout, it also helps with faster nozzle shutoff because it doesn’t expand with pressure.

A word about dumping the tank on the ground. It’s a bad practice for many reasons. Let’s examine just one of those. When you spray a product at 10 gpa, you actually cover each square meter with about 10 mL, or 1/3 oz, of spray mix. When you flush your boom ends on the ground, you’re probably dropping 2 or 3 gallons in the same area. That’s 1000 times the label rate at each boom end, 10 to 26 times per boom. If you dump your tank remainder and all the hoses, say 20 or 30 gallons, that’s 10,000 times the label rate if it covers 1 sq meter. That’s leaching, runoff, residual potential, and not a good story.

Many of the changes we outlined above help prevent that from being necessary.

Pro Tip: To find out how much water your plumbing (from the pump to the boom ends) holds, do this: After cleaning with water and before spraying an EC formulation (white milky appearance in tank, some crop oils are ECs) reset your sprayed gallons on your rate controller. Start spraying and watch for the last nozzle on your furthest and longest section to spray white. Stop spraying and check your sprayed gallons. That’s your volume. No matter the size of nozzle or application volume, it stays constant. To be sure the boom is primed with a new mix, spray until those gallons are reached and you’re set.