What’s driving change in sprayer technology?

Equipment reps share new advancements that will benefit operators and yields.

by Taryn Milton

Sprayers are an important piece of equipment in a farmer’s lineup of machinery. But they were not always considered as essential as they are now.

“I can remember when my parents bought their farm in western Manitoba. They bought the farm and the entire line of equipment, kind of as a package deal. The sprayer was worth almost nothing in comparison to the rest of the equipment. It was just almost an afterthought of a piece of equipment that was used very sparingly,” says Dr. Danny Mann.

Mann is a professor in the department of biosystems engineering at the University of Manitoba and is based in Winnipeg.

Today, sprayers are used repeatedly throughout the year and have become an integral part of a farmer’s machinery lineup.

This month, Better Farming connects with equipment companies and experts to learn more about what is available in sprayers and spraying technology, what’s driving the change in sprayers and where technology might take us.

Drive change

Before sprayers were mainstream, farmers relied on summer fallow and tillage as a means of weed control, but these practices have become less common.

Farmers have moved toward using herbicides and sprayers for controlling diseases, pests and fungus as well, says Mann.

“There are even more unique uses for the sprayer than what originally was the case,” he tells Better Farming.

As farmers are using sprayers more often and are in the equipment multiple times a year, this is driving some change in technology, says Jason Hardy. He is the global crop production manager for planting, seeding and crop protection products at New Holland North America. Hardy is based in Saskatoon.

“Customers are telling us they are spending 500 hours a year in the sprayer cab ... and it’s driving a lot of technology,” Hardy tells Better Farming.

Farmers also want to spend more time moving in the field than filling the equipment, so they’re looking for larger tank sizes and ease of use for the machine, says Paul Krahn. He is the seeding and spraying marketing manager at New Holland North America and is also in Saskatoon.

“Customers want to be in the field; they don’t want downtime. So, you make (the unit) durable, you make it user-friendly and (customers are) putting in more hours … so you want to make it as comfortable and as productive a unit as possible,” he tells Better Farming.

Having a machine that is productive and accurate is also a driver behind a lot of changes to sprayers, says Mark Burns. He is the application equipment marketing manager at Case IH in Minnesota.

“We’re very focused on providing solutions that drive accuracy and efficacy. So, when we’re out with a sprayer, we’re treating that pest, weed, bug or fungus properly so that it doesn’t affect yield,” Burns tells Better Farming.

Accuracy is also a driving force behind John Deere’s goals for their sprayers, says Joel Basinger. He is a marketing manager of application products at John Deere in Kansas.

“If you look, say 25 years ago, we were really managing on a field-size basis. Then we went to more of a sectional-size basis with things like Section Control and AutoTrac. A few years ago, we started managing on a row-by-row basis with things like ExactApply on our sprayers. Now, really the drive we see is how do we manage on a plant-per-plant basis, driving higher accuracy,” explains Basinger.

New technology

Since farmers want to achieve better results with their sprayers, companies continue to improve their equipment and technology.

John Deere launched several new products this year that will be available to farmers in 2022.

John Deere Sprayer in a field
    John Deere See & Spray Select technology for 400 and 600 Series sprayers - John Deere photo

“We have the new 400 and 600 Series sprayers from John Deere. Those start at 800 gallons all the way up to 1,600 gallons. So, depending on what part of the country you’re in, looking at capacities, weights and field sizes, the booms start at 90 feet and go all the way up to 132 feet,” Basinger tells Better Farming.

“Each of these sprayers comes with new integrated GPS receivers in the cab, so they’re factory calibrated, higher accuracy and they come with our Generation 4 displays,” he says.

This new technology also allows farmers to share information with their agronomist or dealer.

Farmers “own all that data. They control who gets access to it, whether they even want to transfer that data or not. So, it’s opening up things for them if they want to share that with their agronomist, or whomever,” says Basinger.

The John Deere sprayers will also have a few new optional items, one being the See & Spray Select technology.

“That’s where we’re using camera technology to identify weeds in the fallow ground. In those chemical fallow areas, farmers can minimize the total amount of that pre-emerge herbicide that they use, target just the weed and overall increase that return on investment. And maybe if they have resistant weeds, they can use more complex tank mixes to take care of those resistant weeds and maybe keep resistance from occurring,” explains Basinger.

This new technology helps farmers reduce their non-residual, pre-emergence herbicide use by 77 per cent on average, says Basinger.

The new sprayers also have some additional comforts for the operator.

“We are offering a new cab, almost like a new office experience, if you want to say,” says Basinger. “You can add a leather seat with heat and massage, a refrigerator or an app-style radio similar to what you would see in a car, so farmers can spend more time focusing on that application job.”

John Deere also launched new products in its Hagie line of sprayers this year. These sprayers have a front-spray boom, which isn’t new, but everything else is.

“Hagie sprayers also come with the integrated John Deere technology. So, the same precision ag, the same GPS receivers on the cab, the same AutoTrac and wireless data options that you can have on a John Deere sprayer, you can now also get on the Hagie sprayers,” says Basinger.

Hardi Navigator 3500 pulled behind John Deere tractor
    Hardi Navigator 3500 pull-type sprayer - Hardi photo

Hardi North America has some updates to its sprayers this year. The Navigator now comes with DynamicFluid4 (DF4) which addresses rate control.

“This DynamicFluid4 is looking at a whole lot more parameters. It’s looking at RPM of the pump, looking at pressure of the boom, it’s looking at the valve position, like the pressure regulator valve, the boom width, which is important for auto-section control,” Gary McCutcheon tells Better Farming.

“A very quick response time is what it all comes down to. If you change the RPM of the tractor or change your ground speed, that just gets you back at your target rate within four or five seconds. It’s really quick.”

McCutcheon is the territory manager at Hardi and covers Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario.

The Navigator also has four degrees of negative tilt on its larger booms, which means the boom tilts down past the horizon level.

Another newer machine to the Hardi lineup is the Navigator i.

“It has some pretty neat features such as its recirculating booms, so there are no dead ends where sediments are going to stop. It recirculates back to the tank again all the time,” explains McCutcheon. “We also have some individual nozzle controls instead of individual section control.”

The Navigator i comes with some features that address operator convenience too, such as auto flush and rinse, as well as AutoFill that the operator can do right from their tractor seat.

Case IH has added several new additions to their sprayer lineup over the last 12 to 18 months, says Burns.

Case IH Patriot 3340 sprayer in a field of soybeans
    Case IH Patriot 3340 self-propelled sprayer – Case IH photo

“In our largest sprayer offerings, which would be our Patriot 4440, we have introduced a larger-capacity product tank. The base offering in that size would be 1,200 gallons and there is now an option for those who are looking for more capacity to change that up and equip that vehicle with 1,600 gallons. So, giving them 400 extra gallons’ worth of product capacity ends up driving a little more productivity and more time in the field between fills,” he says.

Some of Case IH’s sprayers also now have different boom sizes ranging from 90 feet up to 132 and 135 feet.

“We’re covering more acres per pass and we also have the agronomic advantage of fewer wheel tracks in the field because you’re not going to have as many passes,” says Burns.

On the technology side, the sprayers have an enhanced automatic boom height control.

The boom height control “uses radar sensors on the boom as well as chassis-mounted gyros. That is a significant new feature when it comes to height control because that allows the system to monitor the chassis frame and pick up any changes that it encounters. If you start to see a roll of the chassis one way or the other, the gyro will pick that movement up and start boom movement ahead of those radar sensors ever encountering that change,” explains Burns.

For farmers who grow row crops, Case IH has a visual row guidance option on its sprayers.

“That works in conjunction with the traditional auto guidance, but we’re using a camera to look at plants and furrows and to help drive the machine in between those rows. It will work for plants as short as four inches up to about 90 per cent canopy. So, it is pretty much a full-season feature when it comes to those who would like some sort of guidance assistance like that,” says Burns.

New Holland SP370F in the field spraying soybeans
    New Holland Guardian SP370F front-boom sprayer - New Holland photo

New Holland offers three different sizes for their sprayers, the SP310F, SP370F and SP410F. New Holland’s focus is making sure the operator is comfortable, says Krahn.

“The cab is a big component that we want to push just basically to remove the stress and fatigue for the operator. Our front-boom sprayers provide a view of the boom so you can see everything, and our four-wheel independent suspension gives a very smooth ride,” he tells Better Farming.

drone view of a New Holland Guardian SP310F front-boom sprayer in wheat field
    New Holland Guardian SP310F front-boom sprayer – New Holland photo

New Holland sprayers also have technology called IntelliSpray.

“It’s a pulse nozzle system. The IntelliSpray boom maintains the droplet sizes for better coverage. So, the chemical that you’re using (has a) recommended droplet size and this IntelliSpray boom will maintain that pressurization in the boom and give that droplet size consistency dependent on speeds,” says Krahn.

The sprayers also have IntelliTurn technology that automatically turns the sprayer to the widths you need.

“You’re not trampling crops over and over again because farmers are going over that piece and spraying three, four or five times a year on that same crop. We’re trying to minimize the crop getting trampled. We offer four-wheel steering as well and those back wheels line up with the front wheels so you’re only going over the crop once,” explains Krahn.

New Holland sprayers are designed to make the machine easier to use for the operator and also to be more efficient, says Hardy.

“There’s advantage to the customer ease of use, but there’s also advantage to making sure that our chemicals will work in the future as well, which is very important. We need to make sure we get the right dose at the right rate, whether you’re going straight or you’re turning,” he tells Better Farming.

Looking ahead, New Holland plans to have its IntelliView 12 technology available in its sprayers.

“That’s a future feature for us that’ll really drive our communications back to the owner-operator and make their whole farm a productive and well-planned-out farm,” says Krahn.

The future

Technology for sprayers continues to change and improve each year. Companies are starting to or have already explored areas such as robotic or autonomous spraying, which is the way of the future.

Mann has researched sprayers and technology for over 20 years, starting with light bar technology in the early 2000s.

“Utilizing GPS technology, an antenna was mounted on the top of the sprayer and identified where the machine was in relation to where it was supposed to be based on the width of the implement. Then green lights would come on this bar on the front and that meant you were perfectly in alignment. If you needed to make a correction to the right or left, these red lights would go on from one side or the other,” explains Mann.

This technology worked well and farmers liked it, but it created mental fatigue for operators. Researchers responded by exploring how to help the operator and now spraying technology is getting very close to autonomous, says Mann.

“What we’re envisioning is that the farmer is going to need to be able to remotely supervise the sprayer through a tablet or a laptop or something from a remote location. So, we’ve been researching to try to understand what kinds of information should be included on that interface to ensure that the farmer has a good understanding of how the machine is operating.

“Specifically, what we’ve been trying to investigate is whether we should provide a real-time video link to the tablet or the interface, so the farmer can actually see the sprayer in the field.

“Our preliminary results suggest that this gives (the farmer) a much higher level of confidence that the machine is actually working the way it’s supposed to. There are challenges with streaming video out in the field environments and all those kinds of issues that we’re trying to work on now,” says Mann.

While this new type of autonomous spraying technology is not yet commercially available, it’s getting very close, says Mann.

Technology like this can help farmers tremendously with challenges that ag faces right now, like labour shortages, he says.

“Potentially, you could envision a situation where one farmer might be supervising two or three machines simultaneously, either operating in the same field or operating in multiple fields. There’s that potential benefit of allowing the experienced farmer to supervise multiple machines and get more benefit out of the expertise of that one individual,” Mann says. BF

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