19 March 1999

A little inaccuracy can cost a lot

Increasing pressure from

supermarkets and the

introduction of quality

assurance has led to an

increasing number of

growers taking part in

sprayer testing schemes

Andy Collings reports

THERE is little point having training schemes for sprayer operators if the sprayer itself cannot operate correctly, says Kilnwick Sprayers director Wayne Litherland.

"It is like giving someone driving lessons and then providing a vehicle with poor brakes."

Mr Litherlands sprayer business, which is based at Thorpe-le-Street, near York, specialises in supplying and servicing sprayers and holds the franchises and distribution rights for a number of major manufacturers.

Clearly a man who understands the inner workings of sprayers, Mr Litherland believes his specialist approach offers dividends for customers in terms of service and expertise, more so, he claims, than companies also involved in other machinery manufacture and marketing operations. He also insists that sprayer maintenance is essential. "Environmental issues aside, when you consider the total cost of chemicals sprayed each year by growers, it only takes a small degree of inaccuracy to start costing many thousands of £s."

Mr Litherland is an ardent supporter of the AEAs biennial sprayer testing scheme which has processed nearly 500 sprayers through 30 test centres following its introduction 18 months ago.

"It makes so much sense for growers to have their machines tested," he says. "With supermarkets now taking an acute interest in crop production, an ability to demonstrate that pesticides have been applied accurately through a well maintained sprayer is essential. I can forsee the time when supermarkets will refuse to take produce from growers who cannot do this."

While the vast majority of growers who have their sprayers tested are involved in vegetable production, Mr Litherland predicts the same scenario will eventually apply to grain sales.

"It is all about education," he says. "I get tired of meeting growers who insist on operating ancient sprayers which struggle to get within 50% uniform accuracy across the width of the boom. The boom itself is probably a foot or more lower at the ends than the middle and the all-important pressure gauge is just something to hang the lunch bag on. There can, in some cases, also be a liberal amount of string holding pipework together and a significant percentage of the chemical actually leaves the sprayer through splits in hoses.

"But it is not these rogue operators who bring their machines in for testing. By and large, it is the maintenance-conscious user who takes full advantage of the testing service. Whether testing for all sprayers will become mandatory in the future remains to be seen."

Mr Litherland admits there is a commercial spin-off for companies offering a sprayer testing service.

Kilnwick Sprayers operates a three-tier charge rate depending on the size of sprayer. It charges £100 to test a 12m (40ft) sprayer, £135 for a larger machine and £165 for a self-propelled sprayer, useful revenue in the slack season.

The charge covers the three hours labour the test requires and the documentation. Any further work the sprayer requires is at normal labour and parts rates.

"There is no doubt that sprayer testing through the winter has helped to even out our normally seasonally-led workload," says Mr Litherland. "It means our business has become more of a year-round operation."

The other benefit of the testing scheme – for those selling sprayers at least – is that it can be used as a sales aid. Kilnwicks sells second-hand machines with a test certificate in addition to the companys warranty.

Checks keep us ahead of the game

ONE of Wayne Litherlands customers who recently opted for the sprayer test is Daniel Reed of Field House Farm, Bielby, Yorks.

A 160ha (400 acre) dairy/arable farm, cropping incudes winter wheat, winter barley, linseed and forage maize. But one of the major enterprises involves the growing of 16ha (40 acre) of crisping potatoes on contract to a local processor. "We operate a 1200-litre, 18m Gambetti Barre mounted sprayer," says Mr Reed. "Although we have not had any pressure from our processor to demonstrate that our pesticide application policy is responsible and accurate, there is little doubt such a move is not far away.

"And by having the sprayer tested, we know it is set up to perform reliably throughout the season. We could not afford to have it in pieces during the blight control period when the crop needs spraying every seven days.

"I believe that by having our sprayer tested officially, it keeps us ahead of the game and well prepared to cope with any changes in marketing demands. And it only cost £135." &#42