Sprayer on a budget

From Dr. Grady Miller, SportsTurf “Q&A” columnist:

Q: I hear about all these pest control products I could use on our fields, but we do not have a sprayer. With our low budget, I only use “dry products.” Is that okay? – from a North Carolina high school

A: There is nothing inherently wrong with using dry products. In fact, there are several of advantages to using dry products compared to liquids. The application equipment requirement to apply dry products is often the same rotary spreader you are using to apply fertilizers. The spreaders are often tractor-mounted, but I have seen a number of people use push-types on fields. Calibration of spreaders is relatively easy and the spreaders are typically low maintenance, inexpensive pieces of equipment that last for many years.

Also, dry products require no mixing so there is less chance of spilling a concentrated product. If there was a spill, the cleanup for dry products is typically much simpler than for liquids. For these reasons, dry products may result in a greater safety factor in terms of human and environmental exposure. Although the potential inhalation of dust with dry products is an issue that should be considered.

But with liquid applications better coverage is usually achieved. With quality spraying equipment, a much more accurate application of products is possible. This is especially important with low-use rate products that are common with many of today’s new herbicides. There are a wider variety of products formulated for liquid application compared to granular application. In many cases, multiple products may be tank-mixed together so that a turf manager can more efficiently spread products over the field. Just be sure to check for product compatibility before mixing in the spray tank.

Having said all that, it has been my experience that putting together a usable sprayer is not as expensive as one might expect. I say this because I really believe a multi-field facility should invest in some type of sprayer. There is no doubt that high-tech dedicated sprayers can be very expensive to purchase. If you are managing fields at the highest levels, then these types of high-capacity sprayers are usually considered a necessity. But there are other options for spraying that may be available for much less.

First, it never hurts to ask your equipment suppliers what they have in their used inventory. You may get lucky and find a great dedicated sprayer with limited wear and within your price range. The large turf equipment companies have quality, dedicated sprayers that are highly serviceable and can last for many years. So, do not be afraid of used equipment when buying from reputable source.

But let’s look far below dedicated sprayers. I want to introduce you to smaller, more portable sprayers that are more common with “hobby farmers.” These usually have tank capacities between 25 and 60 gallons. You may have a number of retailers in your area that sell these types of sprayers. Look around at some of these places and see what they have available.

Most all these retailers sell a tank that can be dropped into a utility vehicle you already own or you can get a small trailer sprayer that you can pull behind a utility vehicle, tractor, lawn mower, UTV, or ATV. For around $350 one can usually find a 25- to 30-gallon chemical resistant tank, electric pump, and 7-foot boom with a hand wand option mounted on a 2-wheeled trailer. For less money, one can find a similar sized sprayer that will fit onto a utility cart or ATV. For another $50 to $100 dollars you can upsize to a 40-gallon sprayer. A 60-gallon tank sprayer will usually cost about $600. Along with the larger tank one usually gets a larger electric pump for a greater capacity to move liquid and correspondingly wider booms.

Many of the suppliers previously mentioned also sell components so that a person can assemble (or repair) their own sprayers. As I alluded to earlier, more money gets you larger tanks (less refilling) and greater capacity to use wider booms. Spend more up front and you will need to mix fewer tanks and can finish spraying a field faster. Since most of the turf herbicides are sprayed at volumes between 25 to 40 gallons per acre, to finish a football field (1.32 acres without sidelines) will likely require you to mix at least two tanks unless you get a larger tank.

If you do not have a sprayer because you thought they were too expensive, I would encourage you to look into one of these sprayers that you can use with an existing vehicle (rather than a dedicated sprayer). It will open up a new world of opportunities in terms of products that can be applied and ease of application. Since some products are available as either granular or sprayable formulations, being able to use the sprayable may also allow you to purchase the cheaper formulation. This savings offset may be enough over time to pay back the cost of the sprayer.

I will end by suggesting that once you buy the sprayer that you go back to the April 2018 issue of SportsTurf, and go through the article titled, “Technical Information on Setting Up Sprayers” on page 34. It is a great reference on sprayer set-up and use.