Less stress spraying: Save on chemical and operator fatigue

Spraying can make any operator nervous because of the potential to damage crops. Burnt crops or weeds-gone-wild not only affect yield, but pride, too.

Spraying can make any operator nervous because of the potential to damage crops. Burnt crops or weeds-gone-wild not only affect yield, but pride, too.

That's why some farmers are choosing to make the job easier with new sprayer technology.

"I like (technology), I enjoy it, I like what I can do with it, such as planning maps and overlapping maps for variable rate fertilizer and seed," said David Dahl, an Englevale, N.D., farmer who farms with his dad, Royce.

Most farmers are using an auto-rate controller, a technology that has been available for about 20 years, said Ray Wohl, sales manager for Rust Sales, Inc. of Fargo. Global Positioning System technology has been available for sprayers for about 10 years.

Dahl began using GPS technology, a guidance light bar, when he purchased his first sprayer, a pull-type in 2004. Last season Dahl advanced to newer technology with the purchase of a self-propelled sprayer. His sprayer is equipped with auto-steer, automatic boom height control sensors and automatic shut-off.


Steve Wyum, Rutland, N.D., who farms in Sargent county with brothers Mike and Mark, has his self-propelled sprayer equipped with the same three pieces of technology.

"We've been aware of (GPS) technology for several years, but four years ago we became interested in it, and two years ago we got it installed," Wyum said.

Boom height

Boom height control has been available for about three years, said Rod Brekken, GPS technician for Rust Sales, Inc. Depending on the manufacturer, the technology works through wheel sensors, wheel and sonic sensors or ultrasonic sensors. Ultrasonic sensors work through sound waves by sensors that are attached on the boom."The job of the sensors is to maintain boom height at any speed," Brekken said. "The nozzles on sprayers are designed to be at a certain height and you want to keep it at that optimal height in order to have good coverage."

Poor chemical coverage that results from improper boom height can leave portions of a field over-sprayed and damaged or streaked. Drift also can result from inaccurate boom height, but is mainly associated with wind speed.

Another feature that today's sprayers offer is automatic shut-off.

Automatic shut-off

"Auto shut-off has been around for about eight years," Wohl said. "Topcon (formally Key), was one of the first to offer it, but in the last two years more companies have started to offer the product."


Automatic shut-off works with GPS software to shut on and off sections of a sprayer boom to avoid overlap. Booms can be partitioned in a number of ways, such as six, 10 or 30 sections based on what the manufacturer offers.

Sprayers are getting bigger, with 90, 100, 120-foot-booms that are hard to see and judge, which is why more automation is needed to get the job done, Brekken said.


Meawhile, operators often deal with less-than-ideal terrain, such as hills, drainage ditches and silt areas that complicates their jobs.

"The technology helps relieve operator stress and fatigue," Brekken said.

"Our sprayer operator Darren Ptacek is a computer savvy guy, but it's a lot of stress driving that thing for 16 hours a day," Wyum said.

Dahl also notes the simplicity of spraying by utilizing the technology, "Spraying is much easier," he said.

The farm's bottom line also benefits from the technology because of chemical savings, which, like commodity prices, are rising.


"We're using less chemical; the auto shut-off saves considerable money that otherwise would have been wasted on overlap as we have multiple sloughs in many of our fields," Wyum said. "On average, we have a 7 percent chemical cost savings and that can be as high as 10- to 12- percent on certain fields."

Dahl has noticed similar savings on his farm.

"We probably save about 10 percent in total chemical expense from overlap," Dahl said.

The technology has paid for itself in the two seasons we've had it, Wyum said.

The cost of GPS technology components have declined significantly from when it was first offered.

"We were the first in the area to offer auto-steer and people laughed at us because it was very expensive," said Scott Horvik, marketing manager for Rust Sales Inc. "The price went down as several vendors began to market the products competitively and people started buying it."

With the price of fuel going up, farmers are looking at ways to become more efficient, Horvik notes.

"I knew for the long term that if I get behind in the technology it would be hard to catch up, but that goes for anything, even your home computer," Dahl said.

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