More growers are electing to spray their own crop acres rather than hire custom applicators, according to ag chemical and equipment retailers.

“The trend is toward more self-application, and it's economically best for farmers to make their own applications,” says Brian Hefty, who farms 2,500 acres with his father and brother. He also manages Hefty Seed Co., an independent seed and agrichemical retailer based in Baltic, SD.

“There can be value in making your own applications,” adds Steve Willey, Case IH sprayer marketing training manager. Willey believes farm consolidations and glyphosate are two key factors contributing to a shift toward increased grower applications. “We used to think about 70% of the acres were custom applied and 30% were applied by farmers. I think we're moving now to about 50-50,” he says.

Hefty says handling equipment safely, getting basic application training and a pesticide applicator's license are the primary tools growers need to apply their own herbicide. He also suggests that growers go to applicator training meetings, meet with extension weed-control specialists and commercial applicators, and research weed-control topics on the Internet before applying herbicide this spring.

“On-the-farm spraying is one of the easier jobs to get right,” Hefty contends. “If a guy can run a $300,000 combine, he can run a $20,000 sprayer.”

He says growers can save money by spraying their own fields. Two standard herbicide applications a year on 500 acres is $5,000 just for the service, excluding herbicide, adjuvant and any other products. That's figured at a typical $5/acre custom application rate for his area, he adds. “If you hire someone else, you're just not going to make as much money,” Hefty says.

Growers reap additional benefits, he says. Weeds are more likely to be sprayed at the optimum time for control because growers pick when to make applications. They learn more about the products used, how they fit into their operations and how herbicides impact what crops are planted, which varieties are selected and tillage practices.

Be sure to evaluate the availability of parts and service if you want to dust off and use an older sprayer this spring, says Willey.

“During the spray season, you're typically in a time crunch, so knowing that you have service available for that equipment is critical,” he says.

If you need a new rig, Tony Fath, sales marketing supervisor for Redball, LLC, suggests looking at tank size, boom size and durability. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What do I need to get the job done, and is it engineered to last?’”

Tank sizes range from 750 to 2,000 gal., while boom lengths range from 60 to 132 ft. Fath works with growers to match tank and boom to row spacings used and planter size. He adds that good-quality mounted or trailer sprayers have base prices ranging from about $17,000 to $60,000. Self-propelled sprayers cost considerably more.

Before deciding to apply your own chemicals, figure out just how many acres are involved, says Willey. This will help you know whether self-application is economically feasible for your operation. Multiply the number of acres that need to be sprayed by the number of applications needed. For example, 1,000 acres multiplied by two trips equals 2,000 application acres.

Case IH, says Willey, has determined that growers tend to make decisions about equipment purchases and herbicide applications based on the number of application acres.

The company divides growers into three groups:

  1. Growers with fewer than 2,500 corn and soybean acres tend to have the time to apply their own herbicide but can't justify new sprayer costs. They tend to use custom applicators; or, they opt for tractor- or trailer-mounted spray equipment.

  2. Growers with 2,500-10,000 application acres have the time to make their own applications, but their capital varies. “At the lower end, many will make their own applications and buy used equipment,” Willey says. “Those who have good custom application service with good results tend to stick with that. At the top end of that acreage amount, they'll look at purchasing new equipment.”

  3. Growers with 10,000 or more application acres often have the capital for new equipment. But Willey says they don't necessarily have the 300-500 man hours available. Many tend to work with custom applicators to get herbicide applications made.

Willey encourages growers to ask themselves three questions before they decide to spray their own acres:

  • How much time do I have available to spend on the application process?

  • What's my time worth?

  • If there is a lack of herbicide performance after I make the applications, who is accountable, and what recourse do I have?

For some growers, Willey says, custom application will always be a service they need and a valuable part of their farming enterprise.

However, Hefty maintains that if you have the skills and equipment, you can make your own herbicide applications and benefit financially — and improve your weed-control results.

“We are never going to hire someone with a ground rig to come in on our farm and make herbicide applications,” he says. “They simply can't do as good a job as we can ourselves.”

Get Your Sprayer Shipshape

Chances are, your sprayer may need some minor updating this spring, says Loren Bode, University of Illinois ag engineer.

Growers should get local equipment dealers to inventory older sprayers, especially if they've been in storage for a few years, Bode suggests.

One valuable update for an older sprayer: a speed-compensating sprayer controller, says Tony Fath, sales marketing supervisor for Redball, LLC. “If you want to apply 10 gal. to the acre, the controller will help you maintain that as you speed up and slow down. That upgrade can pay for itself in a season.”

Belts, lines, pumps, strainers, product-monitoring devices and especially spray nozzles should be checked for wear and tear. “Buy nozzles that fit the job,” Bode says. “They're fairly inexpensive, and the right ones can save you money.”

For instance, it costs roughly $150 to replace 36 nozzles at 20-in. spacings on a 60-ft. boom, Bode says. Nozzles usually wear to a 10% flow increase, easily resulting in a 10% misapplication. If application costs run roughly $25/acre, overapplying by 10% will cost more than $1,200 on every 500 acres sprayed.

Under application is costly, too. It can result in poor efficacy, costly resprays, reduced weed control and lost yield and profit.

Bob Wolf, Kansas State University extension specialist for application technology, commonly recommends two different styles for use in row crops. They are venturi (air induction) nozzles, at 50-70 lbs./square inch of pressure (psi), and turbulence chamber nozzles, often sold under the trade name Turbo TeeJet, at 30-35 psi.

Wolf also advises growers to place three-nozzle body turrets on spray booms. This allows you to rotate the size and style of nozzle used for the task at hand.

Even with new nozzles, growers should check spray patterns, says Wolf. “Sometimes turbulence chamber tips (which are plastic) have a burr on the edge, and that will affect your pattern,” he says. Nail files or fine emery papers can eliminate burrs and smooth rough edges.

Wolf suggests checking his Web site at: www.bae.ksu.edu/faculty/wolf. It offers practical help on herbicide applications, spray-drift reduction strategies, equipment options and links to related Web sites.