Last year’s Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year award winner Paul Spinks, from Norfolk discovered a wealth of spraying innovation when he visited Sweden as part of his prize.
From biobeds to sophisticated buffer zones and drift reduction gadgets to stem-driven weed control, researchers at the Swedish Agricultural University in Alnarp, southern Sweden are working to improve best practice.
Water protection is taken particularly seriously in Sweden, where buffer zones take account of ground conditions to set a permanent element of the zone, plus environmental conditions at the time of spraying to adjust zone widths on spray day.
One project to make compliance easier for operators is being funded by the Swedish Farmers’ Foundation for Agricultural Research.
“The ground related zones are constant from year to year and can easily be logged into a digital map,” points out project leader Sven Axel Svensson.
A GPS equipped sprayer can then be adapted to switch nozzles off alongside sensitive areas like surface water, wells and gardens.
It also automatically documents the operation.
“For further water protection Hjlpreda is the Swedish equivalent of the LERAP,” says Hans Hagenvall of the Swedish Crop Protection Association.
The scheme uses 18 tables to take account of high and low environmental risk; boom height (25, 40 or 60cm); fine, medium or coarse spray quality; full, half or quarter dose rates; temperature (10, 15 or 20C) and finally wind speeds of (1.5, 3 or 4.5m/s).
“That’s considerably more complex than UK LERAPs,” notes Tom Robinson, spraying specialist for Syngenta Crop Protection, which organises the UK Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year award.
With conventional nozzles, the maximum buffer zone is 50m and the minimum 2m.
Drift reducing nozzles are grouped to achieve 50, 70 and 90% reductions in buffer width, which can cut the buffer range to a maximum of 22m and minimum of 2m.
One University innovation that is already in production to cut drift is the Slapduk.
It is manufactured in a farm workshop by Viby Teknik and can be retrofitted to existing sprayers with compatible boom folding.
The stiff plastic sheet is rear mounted on the boom, with springy parallelograms carrying angled rear pointing 110 nozzle mounts spaced 33cm apart.
In work, the plastic sheet is set to brush the top of a tall crop or run just above a low growing crop like sugar beet, where it catches errant spray drift.
“Drift is reduced by up to 85% and a finer spray quality can be used, which greatly improves the spray distribution in and on the crop,” comments Hkan Pettersson of the manufacturer.
With Sweden being the home of the biobed Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year Mr Spinks was keen to see the units in work, ahead of UK Agricultural Waste Regulations being implemented.
He believes they will have an important place in cutting out point source pollution of water.
One of the pioneering Swedish beds was installed at the immaculate farm of Gran Olsson at Sjstorps Grd.
Initially it was clay lined, filled with a straw, peat and soil mix, topped with a grassed over surface and equipped with drive-over tracks for the sprayer.
But this year, in line with the UK design, it has been lined and the cleaned water from the base of the bed is now stored in a 1.3cu m offset concrete tank and used to water the grass cover for further purification.
The biobed is used for parking the sprayer, filling chemicals and occasional pressure washing after the sprayer has been rinsed and cleaned in the field.
Further work is looking at the role of different chemicals, sprayer and tractor surfaces, their level of exposure and the drying times, cleaning methods and occupational hazards involved in surface contamination.
Controlling weed with a blast of hot steam may sound far fetched, but it is being seriously evaluated in Sweden, where a trailer-mounted steam generator is being used to band-treat a seed-bed ahead of drilling an organic sugar beet crop.
The technique significantly reduced weed emergence and resulted in a sugar beet crop stand of 7 plants/sq m, compared with 3 plants/sq m where steam was not used.
That helped cut subsequent hand-hoeing by two-thirds.