On many agronomic and horticultural produce farms the field sprayer is an important piece of equipment. Besides being used to apply pesticides, the sprayer is also used to apply foliar fertilizers, bio stimulants and other biological products. Don’t overlook sprayer calibration to ensure correct rates of all these materials are being applied. Recently Erdal Ozkan, OSU Extension spray technology specialist, wrote a good article on sprayer calibration I am including in this column.
"The primary goal with calibration is to determine the actual rate of application in gallons per acre, then to make adjustments if the difference between the actual rate and the intended rate is greater or less than 5% of the intended rate. This is a recommended guideline by USEPA and USDA.
Even sprayers with a rate controller should be calibrated because the accuracy of the rate controller is highly affected by the accuracy of the sprayer travel speed data that goes in the rate controller. If the speed is determined by a sensor that measures the revolution of the tractor rear wheels, the travel speed calculated may not be accurate for several reasons: such as the tire pressure being low (causing a smaller tire rolling radius), or the ground conditions that may cause tire slippage (such as wet ground, or soft, sandy soil). Do a manual calibration of the sprayer and compare the actual application rate with what is displayed on the rate controller. In addition, a rate controller may not pinpoint a plugged, or worn out nozzle on the boom. Overall, you may get the desired gal/acre application rate, but you may not have the uniform application across the boom unless you check all the nozzles individually. Checking nozzles is a part of the calibration, as well as finding out the application rate. Clean all the plugged nozzles. Check the output of all the nozzles for a given length of time at a given spray pressure. Compare the measured output from each nozzle with the rated output of a similar new nozzle as shown in the nozzle catalog for the same spray pressure. Replace the nozzles showing an output error of more than 10% compared to a new nozzle. Once you do all this, now you are ready to calibrate your sprayer.
Regardless of the calibration method you choose, it usually doesn’t take more than 30 minutes, and only three things are needed: a timer showing seconds, a measuring tape, and a jar graduated in ounces. Perhaps the easiest of all the methods to determine the actual application rate of a sprayer for broadcast applications is the following:
Fill the sprayer tank (at least half full) with water.
Run the sprayer, inspect it for leaks, and make sure all vital parts function properly.
Measure the distance in inches between the nozzles.
Measure an appropriate travel distance in the field based on this nozzle spacing. The appropriate distances for different nozzle spacing is as follows: 408 feet for a 10-inch spacing, 272 feet for a 15-inch spacing, 204 feet for 20-inch spacing, 136 feet for a 30-inch spacing, and 102 feet for a 40-inch spacing. (See extension publication FABE-520 for travel distances for other spacings, and for an explanation for selection of these specific travel distances for given nozzle spacing (http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/fabe-520)
Drive through the measured distance in the field at your normal spraying speed and record the travel time in seconds. Repeat this procedure and average the two measurements.
With the sprayer parked, run the sprayer at the same pressure level and catch the output from each nozzle in a measuring jar for the travel time required in step 5 above.
Calculate the average nozzle output by adding the individual outputs and then dividing by the number of nozzles tested. The final average nozzle output in ounces you get is equal to the application rate in gallons per acre. For example, if you catch 15 ounces from a set of nozzles, the actual application rate of the sprayer is equal to 15 gallons per acre.
Compare the actual application rate with the recommended or intended rate. If the actual rate is more than 5 percent higher or lower than the recommended or intended rate, adjust either spray pressure or travel speed or in both. For example, to increase the flow rate you will need to either slow down or increase the spray pressure. The opposite is true when you need to reduce application rate. As you make these changes stay within proper and safe operating condition of the sprayer. Remember, increased pressure will result in increasing the number of small, drift-prone droplets. Using the trial-and error method to eventually reach the intended application rate takes some time. If you follow the equations given in Extension Publication FABE-520 on Calibration you can find optimum travel speed and pressure much faster.
Recalibrate the sprayer (repeat steps 5-8 above) until the recommended application error of +5% or less is achieved.
Although clean water is used during calibration, you should still wear personal protective equipment, at least gloves and goggles to protect yourself from possible contact with pesticides inside or outside sprayer equipment."
Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.