When it comes to selecting spray equipment to combat harmful insects that threaten the health of deployed soldiers, military personnel can turn to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists to find out which devices work best.

For a number of years, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the agency's Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center (SPARC) in College Station, Texas, have been testing spray equipment at the Annual International Equipment Evaluation, commonly known as an "equipment rodeo." ARS agricultural engineers Clint Hoffmannand Brad Fritz at College Station evaluate spray equipment used in insect control applications for public health throughout the world.

The rodeo, held each year at the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence (NECE) in Jacksonville, Fla., is part of the Deployed War-Fighter Protection Research Program, a joint initative of USDA and the U.S. Department of Defense to aid troops against insect attacks. One key element of the program is to devise and improve application technologies to deter and kill disease-transmitting insects like mosquitoes and sand flies.

Finding out what works and does not work ensures that the best equipment is being used to protect soldiers. Sprayers of all shapes and sizes—hand-held, backpack, truck-mounted and thermal foggers with water- and oil-based sprays and insecticides—are tested and evaluated by researchers at NECE and the College Station center. Hoffman and Fritz have tested every piece of spray equipment in the military arsenal so far.

At the rodeo, equipment manufacturers operate their own devices during the testing process. The results of equipment performance, whether good or bad, are then published. Scientists at College Station have developed information on droplet size for more than 85 sprayers. The data from this testing has also been incorporated into a smart phone mobile application that has been downloaded by more than 1,300 users worldwide.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Read more about this research in the November/December 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.