If you love the sound of being behind the wheel of the latest big kit, have an eye for detail and a passion for precision, then a job working as a sprayer operator could be perfect for you.
You will need a sound knowledge of chemistry and will know your charlock from your chickweed. As well this, you will be expected to work efficiently and safely to maximise output, and be flexible in terms of working hours – which sometimes will see you jumping on to a sprayer at all hours to miss an imminent rainstorm.
With 38 years of experience under his belt, Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year 2018 Andrew Woolley gives Farmers Weekly an insight into a day in the life of a sprayer operator.
- Name: Andrew Woolley
- Age: 58
- Job title: Arable manager
- Company: Puckshipton Farms, Devizes
How would you sum up your job?
I am responsible for looking after 350ha of arable crops from planting right the way through to harvest, making sure they are protected from disease and weeds throughout the season.
What does this involve day-to-day?
As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time walking the crops. We use an independent agronomist, so I walk with him on a weekly or bi-weekly basis – checking for slug damage and weed presence – but I also go out in between his visits to keep an eye on things. A lot can happen in two weeks, so it is important to keep on top of it.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I treat the farm like a big garden. It is very rewarding when you have taken the crop right the way through the season and are able to achieve maximum yield and high quality.
What can be the downsides?
Disease pressures and the weather can get you down as they are factors that are out of your control. However, you don’t want to go home at night with deep worries and not able to sleep, so I get through it by keeping a positive mental attitude and focus on the fact that everything will come right in the end.
What percentage of your job is office-based?
About 5-10% as I am responsible for completing the crop assurance paperwork. But most of the time I am outside.
What skills and qualifications are essential to the job?
In terms of legal qualifications, you have to have your PA1 and PA2 certification. I personally think everyone wanting to be a sprayer operator should also undertake the BASIS course – it is incredibly beneficial.
What experience did you have before starting?
I did a National Diploma at Wiltshire College’s Lackham campus and then went to work for a contractor as PA1 and PA2 rules came into force. I had 10 years of contract spraying experience before I came to this job.
What tips or advice would you give to someone wanting a similar role?
Get out there and get experience. Talk to other sprayers, sign up to as many courses as you can and attend technical talks to get a really good understanding of what the job involves.
Give us an idea of salaries in the sector?
It’s a skilled job, so I would estimate anywhere from £30,000 a year upwards. There is also the opportunity for lots of overtime if you aren’t salaried, because of the unsociable hours spraying can sometimes demand.
What is the best bit of career advice you have ever been given?
If your heart is in it, then just go for it – you’ll make it work. Farming is in the blood, so stick to it and persevere.