Dear Sprayer Santa,
“I tried to be good this year. It was hard, though. Yes, I know that fast driving causes drift and lots of other problems. But I couldn’t help it – the 375 horses under the hood needed the exercise. I honestly didn’t mean it. I’d have stopped had the air-ride not cushioned all the impacts so well. I had no idea, really. The cab was so quiet. I’m sure that plume of spray and dust behind my sprayer didn’t cause any damage. I mean, nobody called me, anyways. I had no choice, after spending 2 hours cleaning out the tank and having to do another three quarters before the forecast rain. So please, Santa, can I have a bigger sprayer? Please? I think I need it…to, errr…to…to feed the world. Yeah, that’s right, Santa Baby. I need it to grow food for others. So how about it?”
I wake up in a cold sweat. Well, if there was a Sprayer Santa, he’d hear lots of excuses about these sorts of things from applicators afraid of getting a lump of coal on Christmas Day, a black nozzle so to speak.
So why don’t we stop making excuses and solve the problem by making sprayers that focus on the right things?
Here’s my “no more excuses” wish list:
- Increase transport speeds, reduce field speeds. Let’s establish gear ranges which save time getting to the field, and ensure a better quality job once we get there. Let’s focus on productivity without resorting to the easy, but bad option. Speed comes at a cost. More horsepower. More fuel. More structural stength. More weight. None of it cheap. Or good.
- Increase boom width. This one’s a productivity powerhouse. It’s every bit as good as travel speed, on a percent gain basis, and much cheaper. Where else in the world is there a better opportunity for wider booms? The earth’s temperate plains are almost without exception wide, and more or less flat. With the help of autosteer and automatic boom height, why should 120 ft be the limit? Many aftermarket manufacturers offer booms at 150 ft. But why stop there? Sure, we’ll need some engineering to make it work. But the fact is that wide booms, coupled to slower speeds that require less horsepower, can have the same productivity. Not a bad tradeoff.
- Explore lighter materials. Sure, Ford was ridiculed by GM for offering aluminim trucks. But when weight is important, alternate materials can make the impossible possible. Booms that weigh many thousands of pounds require so much strength just to carry their own weight, there are diminishing returns. And the result is that we are stuck with narrow booms. Let’s get inventive with alloys and composites.
- Focus on time saving features. On any given day, we are given maybe 6 hours of good spraying conditions, some in the morning, some in the evening, and perhaps a few in between. This can be interspersed with several days of bad conditions. What a waste to spend this precious time not actually spraying, but rather filling, cleaning, transporting, getting un-stuck, figuring. In a business where timing is so important, and where a late application can have serious yield implications, we should be spending a greater proportion of time spraying. We need help to minimize downtime.
- Dedicated clean water pumps and small sumps. Want to clean out the tank faster? Rather than relying on batch mode, reducing concentration by serial dilution, consider adding a dedicated pump to your clean water saddle tank. Introducing clean water through the wash-down nozzles while at the same time spraying out the sump dramatically increases dilution power with less water. And of course, the smaller the sump and recirculating reservoir, the faster the job will get done.
- Recirculating booms. I initially wrote these off as a bad idea when they offered a single pressure entry point (on one end) followed by an exit on the other. Over 120 ft, you’d surely see pressure drops of 10 psi – unacceptable. But with modern designs offering up to four pressure entry points (both ends and middle) these issues appear to have been eliminated. And with clever plumbing, the boom can act as an extension of the tank, making priming and cleaning faster and easier. Sectional control is now governed by individual shutoff valves, offering customizable, fast, positive shutoff.
- Better flow and droplet size control. 2016 promises to be one of the most exciting years for new atomizers, with new entries in the twin fluid, pulse-width modulation, and multiple nozzle markets. But there’s still lots of room for improvement. To the young engineers reading this, give us a nozzle that provides a 10-fold range of flow rates, each at the same pattern angle and droplet size. Let this nozzle offer easy control of droplet size from Medium to Ultra Coarse at each flow rate. How hard can this be? Make it affordable and reliable, with consistent flow rates and a long wear life. I think we’re ready to pay for this.
- Easy cleaning materials. Every year, it’s a guessing game. Are all the Group 2 residues removed from the tank and booms before you spray your LibertyLink canola? How can you be sure? Well, by checking your canola two weeks later, of course! In the meantime, all we can do is offer hope with ever more rigorous cleaning protocols, one-upping last year’s efforts to ensure that nothing got left behind. How about tank, fitting, hose, boom, and nozzle body designs engineered to eliminate these problems? How about a guarantee to that effect by the sprayer manufacturer? It’s going to take more than the occasional stainless steel component. If we have enough knowledge in fluid dynamics to send an F1 sports car into a turn at 250 km/h, then surely we can design a hydraulic system that self-cleans!
- Better aerodynamics. Let’s face it, we can’t control drift just by making sprays coarser. Eventually we’ll reduce coverage too much and this will hurt our important contact products the most. Instead, we need sprayer and boom designs that facilitate the transport of droplets towards their target, avoiding drift. Maybe the shape of our tractor units and boom components will play a role here, maybe the nozzle pattern needs a re-evaluation. Maybe shrouds will return. One thing’s for sure – we can’t simply drive faster and expect coarser sprays to solve the problem.
So that’s my list. I’m sure it’s just a beginning.
What’s on your list?
*I have a confession to make. I’m secretly hoping for those Lee Valley German Safety Goggles for Christmas. Protecting your eyes has never been cooler.