Matching small-farm crop sprayer application technology with OMRI and traditional agricultural products

Final Report for ENE06-096

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $48,386.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Dr. John Grande
Rutgers University
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Project Information

Summary:
Summary – Matching Small-Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

Our project focused on backpack sprayer “hands-on” training of agricultural educators addressing accurate application of liquid spray products primarily directed at the small-scale organic farmers. The project centered on the “disconnect” between companies manufacturing backpack sprayers, companies manufacturing important sprayer accessories and companies manufacturing liquid spray products.

Nineteen models of backpack sprayers were acquired and evaluated representing several categories including; hand-operated, gasoline powered and electric powered, but primarily hand-operated sprayers. An array of sprayer accessories including pressure regulators, spray nozzles and spray handles were acquired and evaluated with the sprayers.

Prior to the training programs vegetable crops were planted in a commercial system representing organic crop production at the Rutgers University Snyder Research and Extension Farm. Crops of different leaf structures including tomatoes, squash, eggplant and peppers were established for sprayer and accessory evaluation. Four experienced agricultural technicians were utilized for evaluation. Various OMRI spray products were evaluated for training purposes and Surround® kaolin clay utilized for sprayer evaluations providing effective visual spraying performance. Performance data on sprayers was collected for use in training programs. The hand-operated backpack sprayers with the best performance characteristics had large internally mounted piston pumps with leveraging systems reducing fatigue.

Two one-day hands-on training sessions were conducted in New Jersey and Delaware. The training sessions included both indoor “classroom” sessions combined with a hands-on outdoor training under agricultural field conditions.

Training hardware kits were made available to agricultural educators in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Michigan. Training kits consist of a sprayer and an array of nozzles, filters, pressure regulators and educational documentation. Additionally, PowerPoint presentations including instructional video clips were developed and distributed to the agricultural educators for use in farmer presentations.

Subsequent to the training sessions some participants made presentations on backpack sprayer utilization at farmer meetings and field days introducing training program content to an array of audiences including
small-scale organic and conventional farmers, as well as the greenhouse, turfgrass and landscape industries.

Training evaluation forms were utilized to determine effectiveness of the training programs for agricultural educators as well as farmers subsequently trained.

Performance Target:
Matching Small-Farm Crop Sprayer Objectives/Performance Targets – Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

“60 agricultural educators will be trained at three state training sessions” –

In excess of 69 agricultural educators were trained in 2 states. The training program in Pennsylvania was scheduled and canceled due to lack of attendance. To address this, the project leader provided training kits including PowerPoint presentation material to 3 agricultural educators in Pennsylvania. The trained educators utilized training kits exceeding farmer training goals for the project.

Additional agricultural professional educators received training utilizing a scaled-down program including:

Fourth International Plant Protection Symposium — Debrecen, Hungary, 49 participants

2006 USDA — NC 140 Tree Fruit Meeting, 10 participants

2008 SARE — 20th Anniversary New American Farm Conference engaged several additional agricultural educators and follow-up communications resulted in sending training materials to several other agricultural educators in Utah, Iowa, Montana and Missouri.

The agricultural educators attending New Jersey and Delaware training sessions were surveyed to determine training program effectiveness.

“Forty agricultural educators will utilize training kits to train 250 farmers over the next two years” –

As noted above; the project included a target training audience of 250 farmers. The total trained organic farmer audience could not be accurately determined since this data was not extracted from farming audiences.
Farmers may or may not have produced organic crops. However, a minimum of 9 farmer training sessions were presented by “trainers”.

Examples include;

2006 NOFA – NJ Winter Conference — 47 participants,

2008 Western Pennsylvania Vegetable Grower Conference — 60 participants,

2008 Western Pennsylvania Greenhouse Growers meeting — 80 participants,
Delaware State University- 1890 Land-Grant School — Small Farms Program – 8 participants including Ghana Borlaug Fellows women,

Northwest Michigan Sprayer Application Technology School for Small Acreage Producers — 49 Participants,

2007 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention — 121 Participants,

2008 Mid-Atlantic Crop Management School- 31 participants,

2007 Future Harvest — Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture — 21 participants.

January 2009 Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference — 21 participants

The nine meetings noted above represent 417 farmer participants. 215 farmer survey questionnaires were filled out determining effectiveness of training program.

Further documentation with trainers verified approximately 5 one-on-one “trainer – farmer” training during the course of assisting small-scale farmers.

Introduction:
Introduction – Matching Small-Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

Small-scale farmers utilize backpack sprayers in many parts of the world. Backpack sprayers are inexpensive, and simple in design making them a cost-effective device for small-scale farmers. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect that exists in the utilization of these sprayers. This disconnect refers to the issue that farmers need to acquire information from multiple sources to effectively use backpack sprayers in many instances. The companies manufacturing backpack sprayers generally produce a very limited array of sprayer accessories. There are, however companies producing a multitude of sprayer accessories that allow farmers to more effectively apply spray materials. Adapting these accessories to the many different styles of sprayers manufactured in various parts of the world is problematic for the farmer. In addition, many spray products approved for organic farmers have limited directions for use. These natural products can vary substantially in viscosity and consistency making applications problematic.

Farmers would benefit from a more turnkey approach to the application of liquid spray products through backpack sprayers. This information is not generally available from agricultural educators. This project was conceived and intended to address disconnect.

Many advances in backpack sprayers have been realized over the last 15 years. As noted above, accessories are difficult to obtain and evaluate in a systems approach due to the fragmented nature of the business. Previous training sessions targeting small-scale farmers, landscapers and other stakeholder groups indicated a need to provide hands-on training as an effective method providing long-term educational engagement.

Our project provides deployable technical resources for agricultural educators in a one day comprehensive training program. The goal of the project is to provide both classroom and hands-on field training technical programs educators can utilize for farmer training. Combining classroom and field training was conceived as the optimum training program but either program would be designed to operate independently depending upon educational facilities available.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ed Dager
  • Fred Kelly
  • Mike Orzolek
  • Rick Van Vrankin
  • Dr. Mark VanGessel

Educational Approach

Educational approach:
Methods – Matching Small-Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

To develop an effective hands-on training program; at the outset of the project various supplies were accumulated including sprayers, spray nozzles, pressure regulating devices, strainers, spray products etc. It became apparent without the Internet, acquisition of supplies would be nearly impossible. For instance, sprayers of similar designs are marketed under different trade names.

A] Acquisition of backpack sprayers

The initial project implementation included accumulation of the current array of backpack sprayers available to farmers. Extensive investigations through various sources including Internet searches, farm magazines and personal inquiries led to the acquisition of 19 models of backpack sprayers from nine manufacturers. Not all manufacturers’ models of backpack sprayers available were acquired for several reasons, including availability and lack of awareness of manufacturer. Backpack sprayers were acquired covering popular available technology including the following:

1] Hand-operated piston pump — external mounting [outside tank], 2] Hand-operated piston pump — internal mounting [inside tank], 3] Hand-operated diaphragm pump — external mounting [outside tank], 4] Electric motor powered diaphragm pump [rechargeable battery], 5] Gasoline engine roller pump, 6] Gasoline engine air assisted mist blower

In addition to the sprayers, the manufacturers’ accessories such as nozzles, shields, filters etc. were either acquired for evaluation or listings of available accessories were obtained.

B.] Acquisition of third-party sprayer accessories — nozzles, pressure regulators, screens/check valves, sprayer handles/valves

Manufacturers of backpack sprayers generally provide a limited selection of nozzles and accessories related to the application of liquid agricultural products. Extensive arrays of currently available sprayer accessories were accumulated for retrofitting to various backpack sprayers. Readily obtainable spray part accessories are important for small-scale farmers to address application of a multitude of liquid agricultural products. In excess of 20 different nozzle designs and flow rates, eight different pressure regulating valves, quick change nozzle bodies, as well is a multitude of various check valves and screens, trigger valve handles and handle extensions were acquired for retrofitting evaluation.

C] Acquisition of OMRI spray materials

Various individuals including farmers and agricultural professionals were contacted to acquire problematic liquid application materials utilized by small-scale farmers. Evaluation of these products indicated Surround® [kaolin clay] provided desirable parameters to evaluate backpack sprayers and accessories. Spray solutions of Surround® required agitation and filtration to prevent nozzle clogging. Spray droplets dried on leaf surfaces with excellent visibility.

D.] Evaluation of backpack sprayers for implementation and integration into “Train the Trainer” programs: The acquired backpack sprayers were evaluated utilizing several objective and subjective evaluations for inclusion into training class program material.

1] Eleven sprayers were fitted with a pressure regulating valve [GATE Technologies- CFVALVE — part number – 11-16SY] to maintain an operating pressure of 30 PSI in combination with a nozzle rated to deliver 0.52 to gallons per minute at 30 PSI. The time and number of pump strokes required to spray 1 gallon of water from 11 sprayers was recorded. The data is presented in table 1 [Table available in hardcopy report].

2] Eight sprayers evaluated in number one above were re-evaluated utilizing a 15 PSI regulator with the same nozzle delivering 0.37 gallons per minute at 15 PSI. The data it is presented in table 2 [table available in hard copy report].

A summary of Tables 1 and 2; there was a wide discrepancy among the hand-operated sprayers regarding effort to pump 1 gallon of water at two different pressures. Data at 30 PSI, a typical operating pressure for backpack sprayers reflects some of the most significant differences among sprayers. Most noteworthy, some sprayers required approximately twice as many strokes to pump 1 gallon. Generally larger piston pump models required significantly less pumping effort than sprayers equipped with diaphragm pumps. Some sprayers have direct handle to pump connections while others have a leveraging system to reduce pumping fatigue. The Shindaiwa 415 has both a large internally mounted piston pump and a handle leveraging system. Of the sprayers evaluated it required the least amount of pumping strokes produce 1 gallon of spray material at 30 PSI.

The electric diaphragm pump sprayer operated by a rechargeable battery was evaluated with the pressure regulating valves noted above. This electric motor sprayer has its own internal pressure regulating system with three settings [low, medium, high]. An issue developed when a pressure regulating CFValve set at 30 PSI was installed in conjunction with the internal sprayer regulator set at the high setting. An excessive amount of time was required to pump 1 gallon of water. It is suspected that the internal pressure regulator will not operate in conjunction with an external regulator due to conflicts between the regulators.

In addition, a gasoline powered backpack sprayer was included in the evaluation with the 30 PSI CFValve. There was no internal pressure regulating system on the sprayer; the added pressure regulating valve produced accurate spray output.

E.] Field evaluation of backpack sprayer’s:

A 12,000 ft.² field was prepared for crop planting utilizing black plastic mulch on six-foot centers to provide enough area for operating backpack sprayers down each row of crops planted.
Six crops were planted addressing several spraying parameters

1] A leafy vegetable crop with a waxy cuticle – cabbage, 2] A low growing fruiting crop with aggressive vegetative growth habit — zucchini squash, 3] A trellised upright growing fruiting crop — staked tomatoes, 4] A fruiting crop with leaf hairs – eggplant, 5] A fruiting crop with smooth leaf surface — green peppers, 6] A low growing leafy vegetable — leaf lettuce

Eleven backpack sprayers representing: hand-operated piston pump, hand-operated diaphragm pump, gasoline powered hydraulic pump, gasoline powered mist blower and electric powered diaphragm pump were utilize to apply Surround® — kaolin clay was utilized at one half pound per gallon of water to produce a liquid suspension allowing sprayer operator to visualize crop spray coverage. Four experienced backpack sprayer operators subjectively evaluated sprayer performance on six different crops noted above. The operators were instructed to evaluate the sprayers on a single overall satisfaction parameter which included comfort, effectiveness, and ease-of-use/fatigue. The sprayers were utilized by each operator for treating approximately 1/4 acre of various vegetable crops. Long term usage was not considered in the evaluations.

The data from this evaluation is presented in table 3 [data available in hardcopy report].

The average performance ratings of sprayers evaluated provided insight as noted in data table 1 [available in hardcopy report]. Hand-operated piston pump sprayers requiring the least pumping effort rated highest. Gasoline powered sprayers both hydraulic and mist blower models rated were highly rated.

Data presented in table 1,2,3 [in hardcopy report] indicate wide discrepancies in pumping effort required for hand operated backpack sprayers. Some sprayers required double the effort to pump equal amounts of spray solution. Large internally mounted piston pump sprayers with leveraging systems attached to the pump handle were superior. In addition leaking of spray solution from a faulty pump is less likely to contact the operator went internal pumps are compared to external pumps.

F] “Train the Trainer” program — a training manual for participants was developed based upon information provided in A – E above for the training program on September 19, 2006 at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station — Rutgers University — Snyder Research and Extension Farm in Pittstown, New Jersey. Twenty Nine participants representing Rutgers Cooperative Extension, United States Department of Agriculture-IR 4 program, United States Department of Agriculture — Natural Resource and Conservation Service and Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey attended.

A second training program was held on April 18, 2007 in cooperation with Dr. Mark VanGessel with Delaware Cooperative Extension with 33 agricultural educators attending.

AGENDA
Program: Hands-on outdoor training for precision agricultural liquid application

10 a.m. — 12 noon

Introduction to backpack sprayers and advances in design improving application accuracy: research level and farm level calibration standards.

A] Sprayer design demonstrations including; hand, gasoline and electric powered

B] Pump design including piston, diaphragm and miscellaneous pumps: advantages and disadvantages

C] Modifying and adapting backpack sprayers to address liquid product application of varying consistency

D] Overview of spray nozzle design and impact on drift control and target coverage

E] Calibration essentials: controlling speed, pressure, and coverage area with backpack sprayers

Noon — 12:45 p.m.

Review of morning program over lunch

12:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.

Crop application incorporating four sprayer designs
The afternoon session will include four teams utilizing different sprayer designs applying “Surround®” kaolin clay to a crop area. Data will be collected on several parameters including; crop coverage, time efficiency comparing backpack sprayers and tractor mounted sprayers and spray drift.

The sprayers will include — hand operated backpack sprayer, gasoline powered backpack mist blower, gasoline powered backpack sprayer and a conventional tractor mounted sprayer. Data collection and discussions related to accuracy time efficiency and equipment cost will be held after the applications are complete.

2:15 p.m. — 2:30 p.m.

Evaluation forms to be completed by attendees. Handouts distributed.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

Accomplishments – Matching Small Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

It was documented in excess of 760 farmers and other end-users of backpack sprayers were trained. The project was to train 250 farmers, 417 were verified trained. Course evaluations substantiate the value of a hands-on training approach to train trainers.

The educator beneficiaries of the project included not only the professional agricultural trainers but 60 students trained at University and technical school and may become future trainers or end-users.

It was verified 11 agricultural professional trainers followed up on farmer training of the 40 target number. Future programs require more intense milestone follow-ups including reminders when potential meetings and field days identified are in their geographical regions.

There were 215 farmer survey forms filled out evaluating the effectiveness of the training program. The training materials and program content proved effective at the farmer level based on the survey results. Program content, although potentially having significant economic benefit to the farmer, was not determined through survey. It can only be conjectured based on the positive survey results for program content. Future programs should address economic impact through a follow-up survey.

The project identified efficiency parameters of hand operated backpack sprayers and noted more efficient models were not correlated directly to sprayer cost. Some lower-cost units had the most efficient pumping systems. Newer alternative designed sprayers [rechargeable battery operated and gasoline powered] were also included in training program. They were rated by operators providing good performance, but increased weight and increased cost with potential for complications from increased complexity.

The hands-on training included a training manual combined with a PowerPoint presentation. It was distributed in three states included in the project, and trainers requesting training materials in Vermont, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Indiana and Iowa and Montana.

100 PowerPoint USB drives and associated training material were distributed to trainers.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

Outcomes and Impacts – Matching Small-Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

Train the Trainer Audience —

A total of 69 agricultural educators received hands-on training at the two training sessions in New Jersey and Delaware. Additionally, other agricultural educators were trained at an equivalent course in Michigan and also through scaled-down versions of the training program at farmer meetings attended by agricultural educators. As noted in the data presented below the questionnaire survey strongly supports hands-on training concept, as an engaging methodology for agricultural professionals.

In table 4 [table available in hardcopy version] the results of a 13 question survey of participants is reported: highlights as follows;

— 0 to 5 rating system 5 equals highest evaluation – 73 respondents

1] rate your knowledge base of backpack sprayers prior to training — 2.5

2] rate your knowledge base of backpack sprayers after training — 4.2

3] how effective was training program for future farmer training — 4.4

4] rate the difference between PowerPoint and hands-on training — 4.7

5] to the training program address application of problematic sprays — 3.6

The above ratings summarized from the 13 questions indicate the training program effective with insufficiency related to training for problematic spray materials.

Hands-on training compared to PowerPoint presentations training although more complex and costly proved valuable as a training technique.

Trainers Training Farmers:

The project was to engage 40 agricultural educators to train 250 farmers over a two-year period. At the conclusion of the project a total of 11 trainers were engaged in training. Four other trainers have corresponded intentions to train in the future. Continued dialogue with them has occurred.

Follow-up survey information from project participants indicated a minimum of nine training programs [farmer field days and meetings] engaged a minimum of 417 farmer participants with 215 farmer survey questionnaires filled out to determine the effectiveness of the training program.

Training evaluation forms were simple, asking for a response from poor to excellent.

Charts 1,2,3,4 and 5 [available in hardcopy version]; highlights are as follows:

1] When farmers were asked to rate their knowledge of backpack sprayers before and after training sessions- 26% rated themselves good to excellent — after training –91% rated themselves good to excellent.

2] When asked if training presentation meet expectations- 89% indicated good to excellent rating response.

3] When asked if training program improved ability to effectively utilize backpack sprayers — 91% responded good to excellent.

Trainers Training Other Stakeholder Groups:

Additionally, backpack sprayer training programs were presented at other venues- examples follow:

2008 Rutgers University undergraduate/graduate weed science course — 10 participants [10 evaluation forms completed 3 participants rated knowledge of backpack sprayers good or excellent prior to training and 7 after training]

2008 Central Jersey Turf in Ornamental Conference — 152 participants with 64 evaluation forms completed [23 participants indicated good to excellent knowledge of backpack sprayers prior to training – 59 participants indicated same after training].

2007 Michigan Tree Association field day — backpack sprayer training program — 110 participants

2007 AmeriCorps program — Michigan Groundwater Stewardship — 21 participants

2007 Delaware Technical School — Applied Agricultural Technologies Classes — 50 students

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Accomplishments – Matching Small Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

It was documented in excess of 760 farmers and other end-users of backpack sprayers were trained. The project was to train 250 farmers, 417 were verified trained. Course evaluations substantiate the value of a hands-on training approach to train trainers.

The educator beneficiaries of the project included not only the professional agricultural trainers but 60 students trained at University and technical school and may become future trainers or end-users.

It was verified 11 agricultural professional trainers followed up on farmer training of the 40 target number. Future programs require more intense milestone follow-ups including reminders when potential meetings and field days identified are in their geographical regions.

There were 215 farmer survey forms filled out evaluating the effectiveness of the training program. The training materials and program content proved effective at the farmer level based on the survey results. Program content, although potentially having significant economic benefit to the farmer, was not determined through survey. It can only be conjectured based on the positive survey results for program content. Future programs should address economic impact through a follow-up survey.

The project identified efficiency parameters of hand operated backpack sprayers and noted more efficient models were not correlated directly to sprayer cost. Some lower-cost units had the most efficient pumping systems. Newer alternative designed sprayers [rechargeable battery operated and gasoline powered] were also included in training program. They were rated by operators providing good performance, but increased weight and increased cost with potential for complications from increased complexity.

The hands-on training included a training manual combined with a PowerPoint presentation. It was distributed in three states included in the project, and trainers requesting training materials in Vermont, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Indiana and Iowa and Montana.

100 PowerPoint USB drives and associated training material were distributed to trainers.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Potential Contributions – Matching Small Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

The project was able to describe and document a recipe farmers can utilize addressing the disconnect detailed in the project justification. Farmers who lack the time and resources individually to accomplish the projects stated goals will find answers at a single source location.

The disconnect referred to has not been adequately addressed in previous backpack sprayer training programs/publications. Small-scale farmers trained with program content have improved their ability to accurately apply liquid spray products in a cost-effective manner requiring less physical exertion.

The project provided a “turnkey” training approach for the evaluation of the various models and styles of backpack sprayers both objectively and subjectively by experienced small-scale farmers. Significant variations in sprayer performance was documented. Farmers generally purchase backpack sprayers without much consideration for performance. Farmer survey results indicate a changed attitude among farmers related to their acquisition and utilization of backpack sprayers. For instance, 91% of the 215 farmers surveyed indicated after training they possessed good to excellent knowledge related to acquisition / utilization of backpack sprayers.

Future Recommendations

Future Recommendations – Matching Small Farm Crop Sprayer Application Technology With Omri and Traditional Agricultural Products

There are several publications addressing the use and calibration of backpack sprayers for small scale farmers. This project focused on hands on training format combined with formal training materials including PowerPoint presentations. Survey documentation strongly supports the value of the hands on training.

Educators working with small scale farmers should be encouraged to utilize hands on training as an effective educational tool for field agricultural education. Hands on training requires enhanced manpower and teaching resources when compared to traditional classroom training. This is well documented in the methods section of this report. Many small scale farmers lack long-term farming experience and would benefit from this approach.

The first training session did not mandate participants utilize backpacks sprayers for training purposes, it was a voluntary portion of the course. However, survey documents suggested participants wanted more hands on personal training. To address this, the second training session incorporated mandatory hands on backpack spraying experiences. Multiple sprayer training kits need to be available to address group size. This was a significant course improvement.

At the conclusion of the project it became apparent, through follow up contact with training participants, the importance of continued communication and technical support to program participants. In spite of exceeding the number of farmers trained by almost twice the performance target only a core group of 11 individuals became effective trainers. Other potential trainers were interested in training farmers but did not do so for a variety of reasons. Providing further incentives and continued contact would likely improve the number of trainers utilizing program content.

The acquisition of training materials is a complex task since backpack sprayers are manufactured in many different parts of the world and sold under various trade names sometimes representing nearly identical or identical sprayers. The Internet search features are mandatory for both the trainers and the farmers if they are to obtain the widest assortment of usable parts to address the acquisition of parts from multiple suppliers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.