Machinery Doc: Sprayer Strategy

July 8, 2008 07:20 AM

A new or improved sprayer hasn't been in my capital purchase plans; I'm counting on my old pull type to get me through another season. However, the thought of possibly applying fungicides or insecticides and late-season applications in tall crops has me wondering if I should move a sprayer purchase up on my list.

The threat of soybean rust has spurred the sprayer industry to a spirited gait. Farmers and commercial applicators have been capitalizing to meet acreage increases and tighter scheduling by purchasing equipment that promises more speed, greater efficiency and new conveniences.   

The sprayer business began to change when farmers started buying self-propelled units. Commercial applicators used to be the primary focus for manufacturers. Now the size of operations and the repeated trips necessary to apply fungicides means that every Tom, Dick and Harry can build a self-propelled sprayer for farmers. 

Pull-type sprayers of the past (though they worked behind any tractor and didn't require the horsepower and setup of the hydrostatic rigs) did not feature the larger pumps or hydraulic folding booms. The ruggedness of the machine left a little to be desired.

Keeping the booms in one piece required frequent repair. As one farmer lamented, "Our old sprayer was the reason we bought a wire welder.” Pull-type sprayers didn't fulfill the need for speed, either, and they didn't have the appeal of bigger sprayers. 

The good news is that today, pull-type sprayers offer most of the features you'll find on self-propelled units. Large volume capacity, hydraulic booms, multiple nozzle ports, electronic swath control via GIS/GPS, adjustable tread widths, rugged construction, large tire radius and common controllers are all available. 

The separation of power and tool and the overall clearance are the main differences. The tractor can be equipped with auto-steer and auto-guidance much the same as the single-purpose unit.

The single-purpose unit is a strong positive for many operations. The efficiency, or perception thereof, and the convenience factor associated with a ready-to-go machine has sold many sprayers. A former sprayer dealer relates the change in attitude this way:  "The guy told me he couldn't afford the $20,000 pull-type sprayer I was trying to sell him. The next week I go by and he has an $80,000 self propelled sitting in the barn lot.”

Return on investment. Many operators will agree with this former dealer when he says, "A sprayer will pay for itself quicker than any other piece of equipment on the farm.” The owner replaces the custom applicator charges for the privileges of ownership. He now takes care of maintenance, operating expenses, operator licensing, tendering duties and liability costs. 

Use the ready-made spreadsheet (OwnSprayer.xls) by Kansas State University, which can be found in the decision-making tools section at www., to determine your bottom line.

The used market is short in duration because of so many additional new models and product changes.  But the table at left will show that the most recent equipment has held value quite well. It may not be possible to use these depreciation or appreciation figures in future years, but the bull run has made the investment even sweeter the last few years.

Doc Cottingham farms full-time near Pine Village, Ind., and writes this column for Farm Journal. To offer feedback or pose questions, e-mail him at

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