Humility in the Face of History – The Vermorel Nozzle

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About Jason Deveau (Spray_Guy)

Jason (@spray_guy) is the OMAFRA Application Technology Specialist. BSc (Biology and Psychology '96), MSc (Plant science '98), PhD (Plant cell electrophysiology '03). Jason studies and teaches methods to improve the safe, effective and efficient application of agricultural inputs. Co-administrator of Sprayers101, co-author of the Airblast101 Textbook, slow cyclist, slower runner.

See all posts by Jason Deveau (Spray_Guy).

It’s a rainy Friday and I decided to deal with a huge pile of articles, factsheets, manuals and other sprayer-related documents that have been piling up on my desk for a year.

My filing strategy is based on advice I got from Dr. Bernard Panneton (Application Tech Guru) back in 2009. He said to read each document and then file them according to content, not by author or date. That way when I need something, I can search up the subject and find everything that might be relevant. More than 1,200 files later, the system works. No Dewey Decimals in my office, thank you.

What I’ve noticed as I read through this eclectic pile of wisdom, is that many of the application methods I experiment with, or generally promote, are rarely entirely novel. While technology has certainly advanced (chemistry and equipment spring to mind), the fundamental problems and solutions haven’t changed that much.

Case in point.

I have a photocopy of a 1906 book on Ginseng: “It’s Cultivation, Harvesting, Marketing and Market Value, with a Short Account of Its History and Botany”. I can only assume that 100 years ago people had more time for florid language in technical manuals. Here’s an excerpt that caught my eye:

When applied to plants, the finest nozzle obtainable must be used. The Vermorel is perhaps the best. Now make no mistake: this spray must be a spray, not a dribble, nor a drizzle, nor a squirt, but a mist. It must look like a little fog at the end of the hose and must reach every part of the plant, particularly the undersides of the leaves, mind, just enough so it won’t trickle off.”

Poetry. And frankly not much different from what I’d tell a ginseng grower today… although I’d lead them into a Medium-Fine droplet applied with drop arms. But, what on Earth is a Vermorel nozzle? That’s not one I have in my motley collection.

I turned to Virginia Tech’s Museum of Pest Management. I hope they’ll forgive my lifting their content, but it’s too wonderful not to share.

They note the contributions of Charles Valentine Riley. Born in London, England in 1843. He was a multi-talented Renaissance man. He was a pioneer of entomology in the United States and is often referred to as the founder of biological control in America.

Two of his greatest contributions to pest management included founding the field of biological control and the invention of the Riley spray nozzle (1889). The Riley nozzle was sold as the Vermorel nozzle, it was a nozzle that produced a fan pattern and was the primary nozzle used in pesticide application in the United States and Europe into the 20th century. It was Riley’s nozzle and the invention of some of the early European pesticide application devices that enabled Alwood to import these devices and adopt them to Virginia conditions.

The auspicious Mr. Riley died in a bicycle accident in 1895. A dire warning to my cycling-enthusiast colleague, Nozzle_Guy.

Where is all this going? Ironically, the Ginseng excerpt I read randomly off the pile, touting the benefits of the Vermorel nozzle, lay on top of some ~2015 advertising from TeeJet, claiming the benefits of their TXVK hollow cone nozzle. Yes, I’m aware that the engineering behind the moulded poly body and ceramic orifice is an evolutionary leap compared to the humble Vermoral. But, fundamentally, they’re really not so different.


I’m not sure what prompted me to write this article. I suppose it’s just good to be reminded that the next time you want to invest time, money and effort into a “new idea” you might consider a little historical research. Odds are, you’re not the first person to recognize the problem, or propose the solution. A little time in paper archives should instill respect for those that got there first. Let’s not waste time repeating their efforts, but stand on their shoulders and advance what they’ve already pioneered. And, if anyone has a Vermorel (aka Riley) Nozzle, I’d love to add it to my collection.