A growing trend in U.S. agriculture is more farmers and ranchers are purchasing equipment to apply pesticides versus hiring custom applicators. 

Many producers have either never sprayed or it has been a long time since the last application. Meanwhile, the pesticide application industry has changed dramatically.

A major emphasis in pesticide application education and training is underway to assist these applicators in the safe and efficient use of current pest control equipment.

Robert Wolf shared a plethora of knowledge on this subject during the Southwest Ag Summit in Yuma, Ariz., in March. Wolf recently retired as professor and application technology specialist with Kansas State University (KSU) and now operates Wolf Consulting & Research LLC in Mahomet, Ill.

The bottom line, Wolf said, “Accurate and efficient pesticide applications should increase efficacy, minimize drift, and maximize productivity.”

Nozzles can increase efficacy but lead to more drift potential. Some newer nozzles can produce larger spray droplets to decrease drift but at the same time can result in reduced coverage for controlling the targeted pest.

For pesticide applicators, it is easy to think that ‘big is better’ when it comes to application equipment; a larger spray boom on a ground rig or a larger tank on a powerful airplane. While large application equipment can be effective in the right situation, Wolf says larger equipment can reduce pesticide efficacy and increase drift especially if operating at higher speeds.

Sticker shock also comes with larger equipment. A 120-foot, fully equipped, commercial size self-propelled sprayer capable of marching down a field in the Midwest at 20 to 25 miles per hour can fetch $250,000 to $300,000. In the West, a recent model turbine-powered airplane dropping chemical over a field at a white knuckling 160 miles-per-hour can debit the farm’s books by several million dollars.

Most university and government-based research facilities lack the equipment and especially the wind tunnels capable of measuring chemical efficacy and spray drift at higher rates of speed. The USDA-ARS wind tunnel at College Station, Texas, was recently upgraded to test spray applications delivered at a globe-trotting 220 mph.