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The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is an independent, nonprofit institute headquartered in Ardmore, Okla. Founded in 1945, the Noble Foundation conducts direct operations, including assisting farmers and ranchers, and conducting plant science research and agricultural programs, to enhance agricultural productivity regionally, nationally and internationally. www.noble.org

Economics, Timing Drive Pesticide Application Decisions

Apr 29, 2013
James Locke

Spring is the season when most begin thinking about controlling weeds and other pests. Producers who choose to control pests (weeds, insects or diseases) with chemicals are faced with deciding whether to hire a commercial custom applicator or to self-apply pesticides to their own property or crops (i.e., be a private applicator). The right choice depends on each producer’s individual circumstances. This article will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each system.

First, determine if a reliable custom applicator is available for hire at a reasonable price. Custom applicators provide advantages of efficiency and convenience. Due to dedicated equipment and specialized personnel, they can treat more acres per day than most private applicators. A reliable custom applicator will apply the requested products, at the requested rate, to the requested pastures or fields in a timely manner. Their equipment should be calibrated and able to apply pesticides without streaking or excessive overspray. They should only spray under acceptable environmental conditions and do everything reasonable to avoid off-target spray drift. Many, if not most, custom applicators can supply the pesticides, thus eliminating the need for producers to maintain their own chemical inventories and dispose of empty pesticide containers. Custom application is not viable if there are no custom applicators available who meet these criteria.

A common disadvantage of relying on custom applicators is incorrect pesticide application timing. The efficacy of any pesticide depends on applying it at the correct time for the target pest; often, that time frame is very short. The same pest problems can develop for many clients at the same time since custom applicators typically serve a particular geographic region and producers in that region frequently grow the same crops. Having a large number of client requests at the same time, coupled with delays due to weather or equipment problems, can result in even the best custom applicators missing the optimum application timing.

Secondly, producers should evaluate their resources and management style prior to deciding to be a private applicator – especially if a reliable custom applicator is available. A major factor is whether or not a suitable sprayer is already owned or must be purchased. Another important and often overlooked factor is whether a producer is willing to commit to spraying in a timely manner. When investigating control failures, producers often say they did not have time to spray when application was needed. If other activities are going to preclude spraying at the right time, it is an easy decision to hire a reliable custom applicator.

There are many advantages to being a private applicator if a producer is willing to commit the necessary time. The greatest advantage is usually improved pest management due to timely application. Private applicators can closely monitor pests and treat at the optimum pest stage and under favorable weather conditions. Another benefit is the ability to treat only the areas of the field that have the target pest problem. This is often an option for post-emergence herbicide applications and can significantly save on pesticide costs. Private applicators can continue their financial savings by shopping around for the best pesticide prices.

If the decision to hire a custom applicator or be a private applicator is purely economic, other factors need to be considered. Economies of scale play a large role in determining if owning a sprayer is economically feasible. This means the more acres allocated to the sprayer decreases fixed costs per acre. However, remember to include all operating costs when comparing custom versus private application. These costs include fuel, oil and lube, maintenance and repairs, operating and tendering labor, and interest on operating expenses.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both custom and private application. Producers must make their own decisions about which system is the right choice for their operations. Custom pesticide application is often an easy decision for many small acreage or absentee landowners due to economies of scale or convenience. However, private application can provide advantages in flexibility of application timing, improved efficacy and reduced pesticide use. Producers should consider the advantages and disadvantages, including economic analyses, of each management system prior to making a decision.

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