Looking to improve weed control, cut back on chemicals or reduce the risk of drift problems?

Here are some equipment innovations that might help.

If you want to cut back on herbicide volume, take a look at the WeedSeeker selective spray system from Patchen Inc., Los Gatos, CA. The sprayer actually looks for weeds and turns on a high-speed spray nozzle when they're detected.

"Using a combination of red and near-infrared LED light and electronics, the WeedSeeker can detect green plants on the soil surface," says Don Pfundstein, president of Patchen, a wholly owned subsidiary of Deere & Co.

One of the most common uses is application of Roundup with a hooded sprayer to shield the crop and still kill the weeds.

"We've had very good results with it in cotton during the past three years, with chemical savings ranging from 50-80%," he says.

"By applying herbicide only when there are weeds present between the rows, growers can reduce herbicide usage and associated costs and be friendly to the environment," Pfundstein adds.

If you're tired of bouncing that long "self-leveling" spray boom off the ground, and of the uneven spray patterns and weed control that result from it, consider a new sonar sprayer boom height control. It's from Raven Industries, Sioux Falls, SD.

Developed initially by an Australian company, the system has been used for combine header height control and is also helping maintain tillage depth on field cultivators used with air seeders.

Raven sources admit the system is still being perfected, but farmers who have used it on self-propelled and pull-type sprayers say it has promise.

It has a series of sonar sender-detectors that bounce sound waves off the soil surface or crop canopy. It uses electronics over hydraulics to continually determine the distance from the end of the boom to the ground or crop canopy. It compares that distance to the intended boom height, then signals the machine's hydraulics to raise or lower the boom end to maintain the right height.

For improved drift control, check out the TurboDrop venturi and nozzle from Greenleaf Technologies, Covington, LA. This nozzle-air chamber configuration cuts the percentage of spray droplets smaller than 100 microns, compared with standard flat-fan nozzles. Will Smart, Greenleaf president, says reduced drift is just one of the TurboDrop's advantages.

"The air in the spray accelerates its speed," says Smart. "In combination with the larger droplet size, this gives better penetration in the crop canopy."

Other benefits include lower carrier use, improved coverage, reduced spray runoff, reduced nozzle clogging and extended life.

TurboDrop nozzles and venturis fit wherever standard nozzles can be installed. Cost is $13-15 per nozzle.

Another new idea in drift control: the Synchro spraying system from Capstan Ag Systems, Topeka, KS. This electronic system has been about 10 years in development. It uses a valve that pulses 10 times per second to force liquids through the sprayer nozzles.

"This allows the operator to vary both pressure and flow rate independently of one another," says Jeff Grimm, Capstan field engineer.

"If you're spraying and the wind kicks up, you can turn the pressure down from 40 psi to 20 psi and still run at the same speed and the same flow rate."

It also allows the operator to change droplet size from the cab while spraying. Synchro is a retrofit system that can be used with just about any spray controller that uses a flow meter. The valves are designed to replace the diaphragm drip check in Spraying Systems nozzle bodies. You can use your choice of nozzles.

For a 60'-wide boom, Synchro will cost about $10,000. Since the main cost is in the controller, you can retrofit a 90' boom for another $3,000 or so.

"We hope to have it on the market for '98," says Grimm.