Case studies: Sprayers

Owning your own machine can deliver cost savings that will soon cover the initial outlay, says Sally Drury.

Varidome: band sprayers with shielded design used on asparagus at Sandfields Farm
Varidome: band sprayers with shielded design used on asparagus at Sandfields Farm

Whether you work in amenity horticulture or you are a commercial grower, you will want to control weeds and be able to rapidly respond to outbreaks of pests and diseases.

Owning a sprayer and carrying out the applications yourself allows you do just that and in many instances there will be a cost saving that means the sprayer will quickly pay for itself.

Case study: production

Varidome, developed by Micron, is a range of band sprayers that enables farmers and growers to reduce their herbicide and water usage, cut costs and improve weed control while also being better for the environment.

The sprayers incorporate a shielded design to minimise spray drift, which means non-selective chemicals can be used. Each shield is mounted on ground-following carriages for smooth travel and to further reduce drift. Spray width can be adjusted on each individual shield, allowing growers to treat the desired band at various crop stages. Varidome can be fitted with Micron's Dual Spray System for simultaneous application of a second product directly over the crop.

Simon Stockdale has experience of Varidome. He is general manager at Sandfields Farm, owned by G's and based in Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Driving innovation within the business, Stockdale has purchased three Micron Varidome machines - two for asparagus crops and one for salad onions.

"In Warwickshire we grow 400ha of salad onions and 200ha of asparagus, plus 250ha of legume crops," he says. "We also grow 200ha of salad onions in Kent through The Lettuce Co. G's Growers, the producer organisation, has bought a fourth Varidome, which we operate in Kent in the salad onions."

He began working with Micron on the first Varidome sprayer for asparagus three years ago. "There was no other company offering what Micron did," he recalls. "We wanted a machine for weed control post-harvest (in June) without getting chemical onto the asparagus foliage.

"Up until the point we have finished harvest, we are not able to control any weeds - by which time we have problems with thistles and mare's tail, both of which are very hardy plants. However, at this time of year the asparagus fern is very soft and sensitive to any application of chemical. It meant we were having to hand weed areas of this crop, which is very costly."

With Micron's Varidome machine, Stockdale is able to control weeds under the asparagus canopy, right up to the base of the asparagus plant and over the entire contour of the beds by using three different domes set at different heights. With the nature of the high clearance of the Varidome shields, he is able to subsequently make second applications when the fern is high, with little or no damage to the fern.

Last year, Micron advised Stockdale of the new narrow Varidome 100HiFlo shields and he considered using a machine fitted with shields in the onion crop.

"We are mindful of the fact that we will be losing some valuable weed-control chemicals in the next year or two and that the alternatives, when trialled, were very hot on the crop and led to leaf damage. With the Varidome 100HiFlo we were able to apply these chemicals directly onto the weeds without contact onto the flag leaf and subsequent crop damage, whilst achieving good control," he explains.

"We were also hand weeding certain problem areas within the onion crop as we couldn't control them when the crop was established within an overall spray. Using Varidome 100HiFlo means we no longer have to do this, saving us both time and money."

Due to Varidome's flexible design, Stockdale can raise the shields to allow the application of tebuconazole fungicide to the base of the plants rather than the overall flag leaf. He is looking at using higher application rates of chemical in between the rows and a lower dose rate on the actual crop by using a recently purchased Micro Dual Spray Tank.

"The dual tank will also be used to apply a fungicide and a herbicide at the same time, reducing the number of passes we are required to make," adds Stockdale. As it is not affected by wind, the Varidome has also increased the window of opportunity for spraying the crops.

"We looked at alternative machines and were of the opinion that Micron offered a good-quality build and a much more advanced parallelogram system on individual carriages with the narrow domes. The rubber shrouds on the bottom of the shields could not be matched by any other manufacturer either," says Stockdale. He estimates that all four machines will have paid for themselves within two years.

Case study: amenity

Beversbrook Sports & Community Facility in Calne, Wiltshire, means to maintain high standards. In 2013 it won the Institute of Groundsmanship award for best grass-roots sports facility. Last year it added a Martin Lishman sprayer to its range of turf-care equipment.

"Previously spraying was limited to weed control subcontracted out to a local company," says head groundsman Adam Witchell. "Not only was this expensive but it also meant we had no control as to what was being sprayed. Gaining control of the operation ourselves means we can now monitor and record the development of the turf structure."

Witchell found the Martin Lishman range of compact sprayers at the IoG Saltex show in 2013 and was attracted by the quality of the engine and the option to upgrade to the professional specification version, which was more suited to his requirements. He uses the demount sprayer on a Kubota RTV.

Key features of the 250-litre sprayer include a Honda GX160 4.8hp engine coupled to an AR70PTO pump, three-section balanced valve block with pressure regulation, agitation and isolator for each boom section, plus circuit rinse and eye wash tanks. Beversbrook upgraded to a 6m heavy-duty boom with stainless steel spray lines for durability and a hand lance for basic spot spraying. When the sprayer is not in use, the chassis can easily be lifted out of the RTV bed for storage.

"Due to the location of the site we are pretty exposed to the elements," says Witchell. "I decided to add the 6m mini bout marker kit as an optional extra to assist with the control of spraying. The combination of the air inclusion nozzles and height-adjustable boom also helps to reduce spray drift and significantly improves the accuracy of spraying in difficult conditions."

During the spring and autumn seasons, Witchell applies a granular fertiliser to Beversbrook's 16 pitches and two outfields. During the summer months a variety of turf tonics are applied. "Every six weeks, nitrogen is applied at a rate of 7.5kg to four litres of seaweed mixed with 200 litres of water," he says. Iron, wetting agents and a liquid organic feed are also applied.

Providing the flexibility he needs, the sprayer was also used to water pitches last summer. Witchell explains: "With the dry summer and lack of alternative irrigation, I was able to use the sprayer on a daily basis, if required, to water the pitches. The tank size is perfect for our requirements. It is one of my favourite pieces of kit and I would recommend it to others."

Latest models released in the market

The Professional Sprayers People, part of the Spray People Group, has introduced a knapsack granule applicator to deliver precise doses of powdered or granulated agrichemicals and fertiliser. The applicator can be calibrated to deliver between eight and 250g of product per squeeze of the trigger, while the long flexible lance enables the granules and powders to be placed exactly where needed.

For use in orchards, vineyards, polytunnels and anywhere accurate spot applications are required, the knapsack has an 18-litre hopper that gravity feeds the applicator wand. Dosing is controlled by changing the size of the dosing chamber via a slide control system. Each push of trigger releases product into the chamber while each release of the trigger closes off the outlet to the chamber and opens the inlet. This action results in the refilling of the chamber ready for the next dose to be delivered.

The Professional Sprayers People has also been appointed the UK's exclusive distributor for the Brazilian-made Guarany range of backpack sprayers, dust/granule applicators and spreaders.

The latest knapsack sprayers to join the Birchmeier line-up from Agralan, the REC 15 ABX and REC 15 ABZ work off standard and lithium-ion batteries respectively. Both units have a 16-litre capacity, piston pumps and work at a maximum six bar pressure.

Stihl introduced its first manual sprayers last year. The SG31 is a pump-and-prime, five-litre pressure sprayer for gardeners and comes with an extendable hose-mounted spray wand. Models SG51 and SG71 are backpack sprayers with 12- and 18-litre capacities respectively and are intended for both garden and commercial use.

The renowned Cooper Pegler CP15 knapsack sprayer is now available in a 20-litre version.

Mankar ULV handheld herbicide applicators, including the Carry and Roll, are now available from PG Horticulture. At the heart of every Mankar unit is a Segment Rotation Atomiser that ensures small liquid droplets, approximately 150 microns, are generated uniformly.

Aimed at speciality crop growers and contractors, the John Deere R4040i self-propelled sprayer has replaced the 5430i. Designed to provide improved performance, increased uptime and reduced operation cost, the 4,000-litre sprayer is powered by a 6.8-litre John Deere PowerTech PSS engine producing 235hp, boosted to 255hp with intelligent power management.

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