Part I: Pull-behind vs. self-propelled sprayer:
Five things you need to know before you buy
In part one of this two-part white paper, we will explore the five most relevant factors you need to look at when comparing a pull-behind (PB) to a self-propelled (SP) sprayer. We are starting with this comparison because in order to understand the R.O.I. of a SP sprayer, you must first understand why it is superior to alternative application methods, particularly pull-behind sprayers.
Unless you already own a SP sprayer, you are likely in one of two camps: you either own a PB sprayer or you hire custom applicators. In reality, you may be doing both. As you contemplate owning your own sprayer, you intuitively know that a SP sprayer would be better to have on the farm and be far more efficient than a PB, but at what cost? And, most importantly, at what return?
So, naturally, your first decision point is: can I afford it? The answer, believe it or not, is likely yes. As with all capital investments on the farm, you need to consider the impact the decision will have on your total operation. These five factors will help you do just that.
1. Tank capacity does not equal productivity
The old adage that bigger is better is simply untrue when dealing with tank size. A 750 gallon product tank on a SP
sprayer can actually be just as productive as a 1,200 gallon product tank on a PB. It's all about the amount of ground
you cover in a specific amount of time. Think about it – a PB will be travelling at speeds roughly 60% of the SP
"There is a bit more to it than that," according to Equipment Technologies Sales Manager, Nick Smith.
"Speed relates to nozzle selection, which relates to the amount of product that gets sprayed. So not only are you
moving faster in a self-propelled sprayer, but you're applying chemical far more efficiently. Flow rate aside, the issue
of speed is very compelling by itself." Smith backs up this statement with a simple math equation that gives his
customers an idea of the acreage covered in an hour in a SP vs. a PB sprayer:
Speed (MPH) x Boom Width x 5280 (ft. in a mile) / 43,560 (sq ft. in an acre) = Acres Sprayed in 1 Hour
So let's take for example a self-propelled sprayer running at 12 mph and a pull-behind running at 7 mph, both with
90 ft. booms.
Self-propelled: 12 mph x 90 ft boom x 5280 / 43,560 = 130.91 acres sprayed in an hour
Pull-behind: 7 mph x 90 ft boom x 5280 / 43,560 = 76.36 acres sprayed in an hour
2. Hidden operating costs of a pull-behind
If you're talking about comparing the costs of operating a PB vs. SP sprayer, the fact is many of the costs for a PB are
hidden which creates the illusion that it is more cost efficient to operate. Conversely, the costs for a SP are right out in the open so they are often perceived as being greater. Here is a list of some of the hidden costs of a PB:
This cost is generally
related to the fuel being burned by the weight being pulled plus the overall
high horsepower, heavy tractor needed to pull weight of a PB sprayer.
When comparing the gross
weight of a tractor plus a PB sprayer to a SP sprayer, the weights of the
tractor and PB will always outweigh a SP sprayer. This leads to a far greater
compaction of the soil, which spawns more hidden costs like poor root growth, poor
issue of crop damage can be blamed on two likely culprits: the extra set of
tire tracks from the tractor and PB sprayer and the low crop clearance of the
Labor and custom
you take the point about the amount of acres covered in a hour and spread that
cost out over a week or two, then related to the hourly wage of hired help or
your own time for that matter, you really start to see how much money can be
saved by cutting the time in half. Also, labor could include external help as
well. For example, hiring custom applicators to do late season work because the
low crop clearance of a pull-behind would almost certainly damage your crops.
And, a lot of custom that gets done for growers with pull-behinds because they
run out of time to get it covered due to inefficiencies as well as the
previously mentioned clearance issue.
else could your tractor be doing while it is dragging a PB sprayer all of over
your farm? A SP sprayer is an efficiency multiplier in the sense that it not
only saves time and money, but it frees up your tractor for other work to be
3. Comfort and technology have their costs as well
Today's SP sprayers offer far more creature comforts than those of just a few years back. They are designed for full
visibility of your booms and offer fully integrated precision options that are specific to spraying; the precision options are ergonomically laid out in the cab for maximum comfort and productivity. Conversely, many PB owners have retrofit
their precision spraying equipment into a tractor that is generally not as comfortable as today's SP sprayer. This
combination creates a pretty long day of bouncing, reaching and straining as the operator tries to keep an eye on the
booms all while working the precision equipment and driving the tractor.
4. You might be lying to yourself about acreage
"We talk to a lot of growers that have between 1,200 and 2,000 acres that don't feel they can justify or afford a SP
sprayer," says Mike Flatt, General Manager of Illini Sprayer Company in Oreana, Ill. "The truth is that 2,000 planted
acres generally equals at least anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 application acres." So, when you look at the application
acres vs. planted acreage of the farm and combine them with the pull-behind's hidden costs of extra fuel consumption,
compaction, crop damage and lost productivity, you really start seeing how easy it is to justify the cost of purchasing
and operating a self-propelled sprayer.
5. Yield is almost certainly going to be higher with a self-propelled
Most near and dear to any grower's heart is the impact a farming change will have on yield. According to Nick Smith, "The growers we talk with indicate an increase of at least 1% in yield when going from a pull-behind sprayer to a self-propelled
because of a number of factors including reduced crop damage, reduced compaction and a generally more
timely application." Smith goes on to explain that his company, Equipment Technologies, which manufactures the
Apache Sprayer has developed a tool that calculates the difference in R.O.I. between a pull-behind and self-propelled
sprayer. Smith mentions, "The yield increase information is what makes the comparison a slam dunk for a self-propelled
sprayer. In fact, when ET does the analysis, we typically only put the increase in yield at .4% just to show
that even with conservative estimates, it costs no more to own a self-propelled sprayer than it does a pull-behind and
it most likely will make you money faster."
Intersted in a self-propelled sprayer cost of ownership analysis? Contact Nick Smith, Sales Manager and Equipment Technologies. Nick's team has developed a proprietary tool that analyzes your increase in yield and factors in the costs associated with either a pull-behind sprayer or hiring a custom applicator compared to the purchase of an Apache sprayer.