Choose from a host of equipment for your small-farm sprayer applications.
If you don’t have at least one sprayer in your equipment shed, you likely will soon. I have two 4-gallon backpack sprayers and several handheld sprayers plus the use of a 25-gallon UTV-mounted sprayer and a 110-gallon trailered sprayer. Each sprayer has its place on my farm. If a larger tractor is available, tank options increase; although even then, larger is not always better.
Choosing among the many sprayer options can be confounding, and an ever-expanding offering of sprayer types, sizes and component parts is making selection more complicated every year. Picking the right spray system for you requires that you first determine your sprayer needs.
“Match the equipment to the need and the situation,” says Vaughn Hammond, extension technologist at the University of Nebraska. “A backpack is handy for landscape spraying and getting down through the vegetation to your target—whether it is a weed or a pest—however, a mounted or trailered boom sprayer may be best for controlling weed or insect pests in a field or pasture where you need to have the right pressure and droplet size to avoid drift.”
Backpack sprayers are ideal for small-area broadcasts, such as spot spraying a lawn or foliar application of shrubs and garden beds. You can choose from manual, motorized and battery-powered spray systems with common capacities of up to 6 gallons. Manual spray systems use lower-cost piston pumps, while diaphragm pumps common to motorized spray systems are more durable and expensive.
The rechargeable, battery-powered Dramm BP-4 produces 140 psi, while the 433 Motorized Backpack Sprayer from Solo will produce 435 psi. The Sealed Piston Backpack Sprayer from Sprayer Specialties is capable of 180 psi. The psi you want in your sprayer will depend on the application.
If possible, try the sprayer before you buy it. Borrow the neighbor’s, fill it with water, and spray it out. You’ll quickly discover the importance of good waist and shoulder straps. Like any backpack, the weight should not ride on the shoulders, but on the hips.
My 4-gallon, non-motorized, Hudson Bak-Pak sprayer weighs in at 8 pounds empty and 40 pounds filled. With its gas engine, the Solo sprayer weighs more than 18 pounds empty. Fill it to its 5.3-gallon capacity, and you’re carrying nearly 60 pounds. By contrast, the 4-gallon Dramm sprayer weighs 11 pounds empty and less than 45 pounds filled—a nice compromise of some added weight for the convenience of no pumping.
If you go with a manual spray system, consider one that can be pumped with either the right or left arm. I like my Hudson sprayer for just that reason.
Quality matters. Select hoses that will stay flexible, screens that are easy to access should they clog and pumps that are easy to service. I prefer metal tips and wands for durability. Make sure replacement parts, especially seals and gaskets, are available, and follow directions when storing extras to maintain their flexibility.
Beyond Backpack Sprayers
When you move beyond the farmyard, it’s time to move beyond backpack sprayers. A trailered or mounted spray system is the natural next step. Ernie Zimmerman of CropCare Equipment advises assessing the type of spraying to be done, size of individual jobs and time available to spray. These considerations can determine optimum tank size and application method, such as wand, boom or boomless nozzles, as well as type of pump and nozzle tip to select. Adding a hose and wand option for spot spraying or selective spraying adds versatility to any mounted or trailered system. Regardless of the spray system type, size should be dictated by the size of the ATV, UTV or tractor to be used.
“Put a 25-gallon spray tank on the backend of an ATV or a 110-gallon tank on the back of a small acreage tractor without proper counterweights, and you can quickly lose control of steering,” Hammond warns.
“A spray system that is too big can be awkward to work with,” Zimmerman says. He finds 3-point-hitch-mounted 55-gallon to 110-gallon sprayers are popular with small-farm operators for pasture and field spraying. Bigger operations will likely prefer larger mounted or trailer-mounted tanks. Farmers of all sizes find an ATV-mounted unit useful, he adds.
“A popular size with our customers is a 25-gallon tank with a 160-inch boom,” says Zimmerman.
Booms come with an array of lengths and suspension systems. Some have hydraulic lifts and sectional shut-offs. The longer the boom, the better the suspension system needed to ensure that the distance between the nozzles and the ground remains uniform. The alternative is a boomless nozzle with a flat spray tip, often recommended for pasture and rough ground.
“Boomless nozzles are more economical, but the downside is a less dependable spray pattern and resulting coverage,” Zimmerman explains. “Run the ATV or tractor wheel over a rock or high spot, and it creates an irregular pattern. Wind can easily move the pattern off target, too. If drift is a concern, such as when close to ornamental shrubs, lawn or fields, boomless nozzles are not a good choice.”
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Read tips on choosing pumps and nozzle tips for your sprayer here.
Special applications require special sprayers, as is the case with orchard and vineyard applications. Special factors, such as windy conditions or limited time for spraying, can also require special sprayers. Several companies make shields that direct individual spray patterns.
Ag Shield puts curtains around entire booms up to 135 feet in length and sections as short as 5 feet for use with ATVs and compact tractors. Spray nozzles are placed just above flexible curtains, giving the operator visual confirmation that spray is being delivered. Not only do the curtains eliminate wind impact on the spray pattern, but the target vegetation bends as the curtain passes over the tips, ensuring more complete coverage.
“Farmers with off-farm jobs may not be able to wait for the wind to die down to make an application,” explains Gary McCrea of Ag Shield Manufacturing. “With a shielded sprayer, they can get the job done without the wind interfering. It also lets them go alongside non-target vegetation without worry about chemical drift.”
Review Your Sprayer Options
When picking a sprayer, the key is delivering the product to the target effectively and efficiently. How you do that is up to you. Know your options. Visit local spray-system dealers—your local hardware store, big-box store, farm store or farm-implement dealer. Ask about parts and service availability, durability, and component tolerance to harsh or caustic chemicals, such as glyphosate. If ordering online, talk to the service representative. Ask about options and quality levels. Like any farm purchase, a sprayer can last for years if you take the time to consider your needs and buy accordingly.
About the Author: Jim Ruen lives, writes and works with his gardens and tree farm in the Bluff Country of southeastern Minnesota. Find more tools for your garden and farm shed in his blog。