5 September 1997

SPRAY WASTE SAFETY FIRST

Innovation in machinery and working practices was much in evidence among the finalists in the 1997 Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year competition. John Allan sifts out some interesting pointers

IT is important that safe disposal of pesticide packaging waste is taken seriously on the farm. So the Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year judges were pleased to see the subject getting an increasingly high profile on the farms of competition finalists earlier this year.

A simple way of solving the problem found widespread adoption. Old oil drums with holes punched or cut in the side speed the burning of empty thoroughly rinsed pesticide containers.

"It is a great improvement on an open fire on the ground," says Tom Robinson, applications manager for sponsor Novartis. "But the holes must be large enough to let in plenty of air. You need a roaring fire not a smouldering smoky one, otherwise you may infringe the air pollution regulations."

A much wider use of lower water volumes was also noted by the judges. This not only saves water but avoids wasting time travelling to and from refilling.

In some cases the move had been accompanied by the use of lo-drift or air inclusion nozzles, often using turret nozzle holders. These allow a rapid change of nozzle to match operating conditions and the spray quality requirement to the product. But some operators found bodies snapped off in cold weather, making it important to carry spares.

Although many sprayers are fitted with electronic monitors and controllers the judges felt some operators were not using them to full advantage. For example, being able to record the distance down a tramline when a tankload runs out save the operator getting out to place a marker in the crop.

When using a full dose of product the controllers allow operators to reduce the rate by 10% on the headland. That eliminates a tank rinsing disposal problem, since the washings can then be safely sprayed out on the headland.

As a further aid, two of the finalists carried a map or list with them, giving field, headland and body areas of the field. This helped them to calculate how much product to put in the last tankload.

To back this up, three of the finalists also used flow meters to check the volume of water charged into the tank, and in one case the required volume was logged into the "black box", sounding a hooter to alert the operator to turn the water off.

Safety was much in evidence – not only for themselves but also for others in an emergency. Printed advice and contact numbers prominently displayed on the sprayer or in the tractor cab gave not only farm and normal emergency phone numbers, but also the 0800 807060 for the Environment Agency, in case a spillage threatened water pollution.

In one tractor cab an emergency pack with first-aid and contingency instructions was carried in an appropriately labelled tin; in another the detail of the product being used, operators name and blood group, together with doctor, hospital and other emergency numbers.

Innovation does not have to be expensive. An empty silage additive drum cut in half was put to good use by using one half to catch any spillage when decanting part packs into a measure while the other half prevented soil contamination if there was accidental spillage when using the induction hopper. In both cases the spilt chemical was safely washed into the induction hopper.

Small anemometers used by hang gliding enthusiasts were another aid to securing environmental safety. Regular use of them reduces the risk of drift and the resulting records can be useful in case of complaint or in meeting some of the protocol requirements. In addition, several finalists carry a thermometer to record the in crop temperature when using products that are temperature sensitive.

Wide tyres on tractor, trailed or self propelled sprayers have the advantage of reducing ground pressure, but bring the risk of late maturing tillers along the tramlines, especially in a wet year. To overcome the problem, one finalist had mounted a spray nozzle behind the wheels to spray off the crop to a wheel width, so moist grains are not harvested and drying is reduced.

Chemical storage ranged from a metal tank and redundant deep freeze on the small farms to custom built and converted farm buildings. In one of the conversions, a 15cm (6in) 90í salt glaze pipe set at high level in the wall gave burglar and vermin proof ventilation, with an internal seal for use in frosty weather.

Efficient bunding and containment of spillages with sand, brush and shovel, along with bags and tubs for contaminated materials and leaking packs were readily available at all finalist stores.

One Knight trailed sprayer had room to carry these items at all times, while other operators carried them on the water bowser.n

Flow meter sensor which is wired in to an LHAgro sprayer controller. An alarm on the unit controller sounds when the pre-set amount of water has been charged into the tank.

Environment Agency emergency number, nozzle statistics, pack triple rinsing and water – Keep it clean – information displayed close to the sprayer filling point.

Bunded chemical store with good racking alongside sand and a containment drum for cleaning up spillages or leaking containers.

Field plans marked up with precise areas and hazards are useful for planning applications and avoiding surpluses when mixing loads.

Sand and bucket, together with brush and shovel, are carried on the poop deck of the Knight trailed sprayer in case of spillage.

Oil drum incinerator for burning empty rinsed and drained pesticide packs. Large holes cut with a torch allow enough air to enter to create a hot fire.

A farm made pipe restrainer fitted to the top link avoids trouble when turning the trailed sprayer.