Sprayers for soft fruit and strawberries are noted for their high degree of individuality, making virtually every machine bespoke. For the orchard, however, a degree of standardisation means that the grower can choose more readily "off the peg", taking advantage of savings offered by more production-line machines.
Despite this, the market does not stand still, with new machines developed regularly in light of customer experience and changing trends. Legislation also has a role to play with changes in pesticide regulation, together with machinery standards such as the National Sprayer Testing Scheme and the Local Environment Risk Assessment for Pesticides.
Nick Seymour of NP Seymour in Cranbrook, Kent, is a main agent for Berthoud orchard sprayers and remembers a time when the market was dominated by ultra-low volume (ULV) spraying. Around the 1980s, chemicals were the largest cost in orchard management and the drive was to reduce costs by spraying at 56 litres/ha. Likewise, backed by agronomists, there was a considerable level of experimentation in reduced volumes of active ingredient.
Today the choice of sprays is quite different, the relative cost per hectare reduced and, with new codes of practice, there is considerable pressure not to deviate in any way from label recommendations. The result, says Seymour, is that some 75 per cent of the market is dominated by air-assisted sprayers, particularly those from Exel Industries' French manufacturer Berthoud and its Dutch competitor Munckhof.
Within the Berthoud range, the ARBO BX 1,000-litre trailed sprayer is probably still the most commonly used sprayer for both fruit and hops. Having built a formidable reputation for reliability and long life, it is now superceded, but still supported with a spares service.
The natural replacement for that machine is the Fructair, a trailed machine with a 1,000- to 3,000-litre capacity polypropylene tank and choice of fan size. Berthoud states that 1,500 litres is probably the most popular size in the UK, with a fan size of 900mm.
Smaller acreages and those spraying ULVs often use the MAXAIR 484 mounted 400-litre sprayer, says Seymour. This comes with a capacity of 200 to 600 litres again with differing fan sizes from 240 to 800mm. By changing nozzles and nozzle angle, fan size and gear ratio, the Maxair and Fructair large air blast will push chemicals through the tree and turn the leaf.
Within the Fructair range, three variants are available in the UK. The TI is the top of the range, not just by virtue of its large induction hopper, hand wash and can wash, but because of the reverse fan feature that avoids taking in turbulent air, clippings, dust and leaves that sometimes clog air intakes. The TC is the conventional variant and newly available is the TCI, a hybrid with the reverse fan but a simpler overall specification.
As an alternative to the Berthoud, NP Seymour also imports OCLL sprayers from Carrarospray in Italy. These are well-built but economical air-blast sprayers available in both trailed and mounted variants, but perhaps without the variety of options afforded by the Berthoud.
Munckhof's motto, "Innovation in Technique", dates from 1884. The Dutch company has been noted for orchard spraying technology for most of its life. Accounting for a similarly large slice of the UK market in air blast orchard sprayers to that of Berthoud, its latest innovations were aired for the first time in Britain at the National Fruit Show by Canterbury-based Kent Fruit Services managing director Peter Kelly.
Kelly reports that currently the best sellers are the 1,000- and 1,500-litre cross-flow fan trailed machines that are available with a wide variety of nozzle and vertical boom configurations and eco-spraying funnels. However, occasional difficulties with picking up litter and trash, along with the need for economies of scale by traversing more than one row at a time, have led to the development of a three-row boom and its single-row "baby brother", the latter perhaps better suited to UK conditions.
So new that they do not have a name yet, the unique feature of these machines is that they draw in air from above, at the top of the canopy, utilising a hydraulic rather than PTO-driven fan. The air is driven into a vertical bag (or bags) with nozzles to two sides, ensuring even output from top to bottom.
Some 30 to 40 triple-row developmental units have already been in operation in Europe for a year, with great success, allowing three rows to be sprayed in the time it would normally take to do one, or reducing tractor and manpower if multiple units were normally employed.
The cost of the single-row machine will be similar to that of a conventional air-blast sprayer, reasons Kelly, the triple-row significantly more but with the potential to pay for itself quickly in larger orchards.
Although major players, Munckhof and Berthoud by no means have a duopoly in this market. For example, other members of the Exel group, Hardi and Caruelle-Nicolas also have mounted and trailed machines.
Hardi's Mercury mist blowers cater for large orchards with high-volume trailed tanks up to 3,500 litres. At the other end of the scale is the easily operated and sturdy Zenit mounted axial blower with a capacity between 400 and 1,000 litres.
Based at Clifton upon Dunsmore near Coventry, Hardi has Danish parentage; whereas Nicolas hails from France, citing its family farming heritage as the reason for its success with bespoke solutions to grower needs. Its range also comprises mounted and trailed machines, the former being a 400- to 600-litre unit with inverse agitation and its largest and more sophisticated machine, the trailed Magistral, going up to 2,000 litres. As befits a company priding itself on bespoke solutions, the variety of options is legion with a choice of double or single air scoops, inverse intakes etc.
The remaining 15 to 20 per cent of this market is taken up by pneumatic (as opposed to air-blast) machines operating with a shear nozzle that produces a smaller droplet size propelled by a more delicate air flow. These machines are suited for berries and similar fruits less resistant to blasting.
Typical of this type is the Berthoud Speedair, which is truly directional - making it more environmentally friendly because the nozzles spray the tree rather than spraying up into the air. This 600-to 1,500-litre machine has the power to cope with the wider plant widths and four-row bed systems, as well as being compact enough for narrow plantings such as raspberries. The Nicolas Tornado range, both trailed and mounted, operates on a similar principle with a wide variety of options available.
And, finally, for even more specialised applications, NP Seymour can now supply the Belgian BMA BAMPS machines. These include sprayers with dual fans, a fan mounted on an elevated tower and turbine sprayers.
Berthoud Great Massingham 01485 520626
Hardi 01788 861144
Munckhof (Kent Fruit Services) 01277 765069
Nicolas Equipment Supply Services 01639 635123
NP Seymour 01580 712200
SPRAYERS FOR VEGETABLES
The choice of a sprayer for field vegetables can be daunting if for no other reason than the range of potentially suitable arable sprayers in the UK is huge. But, given the nature of specialist field vegetable growing, it is possible to narrow the range somewhat.
The crop itself is valuable, the materials sprayed are more costly than those on cereals, timeliness and the need of the grower to optimise any available spray window are vital considerations and the producer is increasingly subject to the constraints of buyer protocols and codes of practice.
The need for regular "instant" spraying is moving the market towards self-propelled machines. Otherwise, tractors tend to be tied up with spraying most of the time. GPS and especially auto-boom section control are becoming essential to prevent over/underdosing of crops, especially in short work. Mistakes in this sector are unforgiving - for example, an accidental overdose of herbicides on onions is lethal. And how long will it be before supermarkets start to demand GPS in their protocols?
Taking all this into account, the vegetable market is divided among a group of major companies that all have stakes in these kind of developments. These firms are Spraycare, Bateman Engineering, Chafer Machinery, Knight Farm Machinery and Sands Agricultural Machinery.
The pace of development in this class of machine is impressive - not just in spraying technology but in operator comfort, cab design, environmental issues such as can washing and performance economy.
Not everyone buys new, of course, but a two-year-old machine should have sufficient technology to allow for automatic section control and GPS.
Bateman Engineering 01353 666615
Chafer Machinery 01427 838341
Househam Spraycare 01400 276000
Knight Farm Machinery 01780 722200
Sands Agricultural Machinery 01692 580522