Timing trumps most things in crop protection. A great spray applied at the wrong time isn’t nearly as valuable as a mediocre spray at the right time. So how do we improve our ability to get things done at the right time?
Often, we try to win races by driving faster. In our last article, we looked at driving speed and concluded that faster speeds can lead to more drift and less uniform deposition. Driving slower can be viewed as a sort of insurance policy: You may not notice the benefits right away, but on days when that extra bit of performance is required, you’re covered.
So how do you get the job done quickly if you can’t drive faster? To answer, we have to look to other opportunities for boosting productivity.
Recently, we built a model to capture all the elements of a normal spray operation that affect timeliness. These were:
- travel speed
- boom width
- tank size
- water volume
- field length
- number of headlands
- turning speed
- fill time
First, we identified a reasonable base condition. For the sprayer, that was a travel speed of 14 mph, a 90’ boom, an 800 gal tank, a 10 gpa water volume, and a 20 minute fill time. Then, we set up a typical field situation, which was spraying a half-mile run on a quarter with two sprayed headlands and a turning speed of 8 mph. Finally, we changed one factor at a time to determine its relative importance.
Before we discuss the results, let’s make it clear that just because changing some of these factors improves productivity doesn’t mean we’re recommending them! For example, adequate water volume remains an important input that improves coverage and permits the use of low-drift sprays. Larger tanks increase compaction and take more power, and so forth.
Here’s what we found:
All productivity values were expressed as acres per engine hour. For this reason, our numbers will be lower than what a typical sprayer monitor reports, most of which calculate acres per spraying hour.
For the base condition, the sprayer spent 15% of its driving time turning, and 37% of its on-field time stationary (i.e. filling). For every hour spent on the field, less than half the time (48%) was spent spraying. This resulted in an average productivity of 82 acres/h.
Increasing the spray speed to 18 mph increased average productivity to 93 acres/h, but it also increased the proportion of time spent turning and loading, resulting in just 40% of the field time spent spraying.
Decreasing the loading time from 20 to 10 minutes reduced the proportion of field time spent stationary to 23%, covering 100 acres/h at 14 mph. Surprisingly, this was the productivity-winner, resuling in 62% of on-field time spraying.
We discovered other powerful productivity factors, and chief among them was boom width. A 33% increase in boom width from 90’ to 120’ gave a productivity boost to 94 acres/h, close to the same result as increasing the travel speed to 18 mph earlier. Similar side effects occurred: more time turning, and a greater proportion of time filling, as we saw with faster travel speeds.
Boom width seems to have some room for growth. Many smaller European counties use wider booms than we do in North America, for example. With gps guidance and large fields, we have excellent conditions for their implementation.
Two other factors that had similar effects to fill time were water volume and tank size. Less water and larger tanks increased productivity by decreasing the fill frequency, with effects similar in magnitude to speeding up the fill time. Decreasing the water volume from 10 to 5 gpa increased productivity to 100 acres/h by decreasing the proportion of time the sprayer was stopped from 37% to 23%. Increasing from an 800 to a 1,200 gallon tank increased productivity to 94 acres/h, again by decreasing the proportion of time spent filling to 28%.
Taken together, a sprayer with a 120’ boom, a 1,200 gal tank, applying 10 gpa and filling in 10 min had an average productivity of 132 acres/h. And this was achieved without driving faster than 14 mph. If you can string two quarters together and drive a whole mile before turning, that number rises to 145 acres/h, a surprisingly large 13 acres/h gain.
The perspective of minimizing downtime extends to other tasks, too:
- Be more prepared for the job by reviewing the product label in advance, noting the correct mixing order.
- Keep extra nozzles, clamps, and nozzle bodies in the cab.
- Don’t clean plugged nozzles, replace them.
- Use low-drift nozzles so a small increase in wind doesn’t shut you down.
- Ensure all the products needed are on the tender truck (e.g. pesticide, adjuvant, tank cleaner, anti-foamer, etc.).
- Consider switching to 3” plumbing (pump rates of 300 – 400 gpm are possible).
- Make sure your inductor won’t be the limiting factor. For example, product pumps can be awfully slow when the product is cold. It might be worthwhile to explore a venturi system.
Speeding up the fill process is a good idea, but be careful with certain products. Dry materials such as the sulfonyl ureas (e.g. Refine, Express SG, etc.) and some fungicides (e.g. Astound, etc.) require time to hydrate in water so they mix properly. Some operators pre-hydrate these in a smaller tank, while others get an extra tank to pre-mix whole loads and simply transfer them over.
Also think about the time spent cleaning the sprayer. Thoroughness is important, but perhaps there are efficiencies to be gained there as well, like never letting a sprayer sit after spraying. We’ve written about continuous rinsing, for example, to improve cleaning speed and effectiveness.
So, the quicker we can spray, while ensuring a quality job, the more effective our crop protection practices will be. We encourage you to use our Productivity Calculator to determine your best configuration.
Got a productivity tips to share? Let us know! And remember: In spraying, the race is won in the pits.
Factor |
Base |
Drive Faster |
Fill Faster |
Spray Wider |
Less Water |
Bigger Tank |
New Sprayer |
Travel Speed |
14 mph |
18 mph |
14 mph |
14 mph |
14 mph |
14 mph |
14 mph |
Fill time |
20 min |
20 min |
10 min |
20 min |
20 min |
20 min |
10 min |
Boom Width |
90 ft |
90 ft |
90 ft |
120 ft |
90 ft |
90 ft |
120 ft |
Water Volume |
10 gpa |
10 gpa |
10 gpa |
10 gpa |
5 gpa |
10 gpa |
10 gpa |
Tank Size |
800 gal |
800 gal |
800 gal |
800 gal |
800 gal |
1200 gal |
1200 gal |
Field Length |
0.5 mile |
0.5 mile |
0.5 mile |
0.5 mile |
0.5 mile |
0.5 mile |
0.5 mile |
Time Turning |
15% |
19% |
15% |
20% |
15% |
15% |
20% |
Time Loading |
37% |
42% |
23% |
42% |
23% |
28% |
19% |
Time Spraying |
48% |
39% |
62% |
38% |
62% |
57% |
61% |
Acres/h |
82 |
93 |
100 |
94 |
100 |
94 |
132 |