Over the course of three years an efficient electric sprayer with convertible horizontal and vertical booms for use in high tunnels was built and tested. The sprayer significantly reduced the amount of time required to spray a high tunnel and improved the uniformity with which the materials being sprayed were applied to the plant canopy.
The sprayer also proved to be useful in raspberries and with row crops such as summer squash on a small scale diverse market farm. When being used in the field, rather than in a high tunnel, a wheelbarrow style wheel was added to the front of the sprayer to raise it higher from the ground and make it easier to maneuver in soft soil.
Hollow Cone, Flat Fan and Twin Cap Flat Fan nozzles were tested on tomatoes in the high tunnel. Performance of the flat fan style nozzles was not very good. The twin cap flat fan style performed best. Hollow Cone performance was acceptable, but slightly lower than the twin cap flat fan style nozzle. Battery life was an issue with the first batteries trialed. They were replaced with a larger battery in 2016 which seems to work better. The design for control switches needs to be improved.The sprayer will be easier to use when they are relocated to the handle. For a test bed, the sprayer works fairly well.The solenoids to control the nozzles are a nice feature and the pump is sized appropriately to deliver materials at a relatively high rate. I’m still not completely satisfied with the ergonomics of the sprayer, but making the machine longer to improve the ergonomics also makes it more difficult to maneuver in an high tunnel. We will need to continue working with the sprayer and tinkering with it to find a good balance between length for ease of use and still being able to turn it around easily at the end of the row in the tunnel.
The Fellenz Family Farm is a certified organic farm growing mixed vegetables and fruit. Tomatoes, peppers, cucurbits, eggplant, beets, kohlrabi, radishes, turnips and many varieties of root crops are grown both in high tunnels and the field.The farm was challenged in finding an efficient and effective method to spray crop protectants in the high tunnels.The farm was using a 5 gallon caddy sprayer and Solo backpack sprayer and found that it was difficult and time consuming to uniformly apply materials at labelled rates with the single nozzle hand wand equipped sprayers.
In cooperation with Andrew Landers, Pesticide Application Technology Specialist at the NY Agriculture Experiment Station, NYSAES, who provided technology review, design assistance and efficacy testing and Judson Reid, Extension Vegetable Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension, who provided outreach assistance and Erik Fellenz who provided fabrication and testing support, a sprayer was built and underwent several iterations of design improvements to make it more useful in a high tunnel. It also received a wheelbarrow style mount for field use.
The objective of the project was to design and build a compact sprayer for use in high tunnels that would efficiently spray both trellised crops and crops grown in beds at label rates. Compared to the commercially available backpack and caddy sprayers, the sprayer needed to be at least as easy to clean and set up; easier to operate and better able to apply materials uniformly and at label rates in a high tunnel.
The test sprayer was built in 2014 and early 2015 and continuously modified through-out the project. The intent was to use the sprayer as needed on the farm and modify it as it was used to address deficiencies as they were identified.
A formal trial of sprayer efficacy was done in 2015 when three different design nozzles were tested and Andrew Landers from the NY Agriculture Experiment Station evaluated canopy penetration and leaf coverage.
Informal trials were done on every use and the time required to spray was noted. Spray time using the sprayer was significantly less than what had been required with the other sprayers the farm had used.
The test sprayer proved that a boom sprayer can be built relatively cheaply and will perform well in a high tunnel. The project built sprayer reduced the time required to spray a tunnel from ~90 minutes when a backpack or caddy style sprayer was used to <30 minutes with the project sprayer.
This time savings makes it much easier to integrate spraying into regular farm operations and allows for spraying at optimal times of the day, like early evening for pyrethrins (to avoid injuring bees).
With the five outreach events at two conferences and one field day, over 150 farmers were introduced to the sprayer. Social media postings on facebook have reached several hundred additional farmers. Details on sprayer construction and a bill of materials with 2014 pricing have been posted on FarmHack, http://farmhack.org/tools/high-tunnel-bed-and-trellised-crops-sprayer , and are included as attachments in this report.
With assistance from Andrew Landers, a sprayer was designed and fabricated. Andrew provided support in specifying components and made recommendations regarding nozzle configurations. Andy blocked out the basic design to fit within the aisle widths of the high tunnels. Erik and Andy worked on component packaging to keep the sprayer as compact as possible while still being able to service and clean it thoroughly. A first generation sprayer was built in 2014.
In 2015 the sprayer was tested in both the horizontal and vertical boom configurations. Andrew Landers ran a series of trials to determine which nozzle configuration provided the best penetration and most uniform deposition within the canopy of trellised tomatoes. It was determined that the twin cap flat fan nozzles worked best. Hollow cone nozzles also delivered good results. Battery life was disappointing and the batteries began to fail after just a few charging cycles.
In 2016 the batteries were replaced with a larger battery. This necessitated a redesign of the battery box on the sprayer and relocation of several other components. The larger battery improved sprayer performance. The ergonomics of the sprayer, specifically the handlebar design, placement of the control switches and a sprayer kill switch to prevent the drawing down of the batteries if the solenoids were left in the run position were all issues that were identified in using the sprayer during the 2016 season which still require resolution.
A significant amount of outreach was done in 2016 with the sprayer project discussed at two workshops at the NOFA-NY Winter Conference, two workshops at the NOFA Summer Conference in Amherst Massachusetts, a field day on the Fellenz Family Farm discussion via social media and information posted to the Farm Hack website.
A copy of the materials list for the sprayer is attached.
A summary sprayer construction report with photographs is attached.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
NOFA NY 2016 Winter Conference, Saratoga Springs NY, January 22-24, 2016
- FarmHack Workshop – Three presenters plus a facilitator presented on a range of farm-built tools. Andy Fellenz discussed the sprayer and the NESARE farmer grant program. Following the discussion, there was time set aside for one on one conversations with each of the presenters. Andy met with several of the attendees to discuss how the sprayer was put together and how it worked. Erik Fellenz discussed fabrication of the sprayer with several workshop attendees.
- High Tunnels: Maximize Your Profit and Productivity – This was a half day intensive workshop. The other presenters were Judson Reid, Cornell Vegetable Program, who spoke about best management practices for soil health and fertility in high tunnels and Andrew Mefferd, Growing For Market, who discussed crops and techniques. Use of the sprayer and sprayer concerns in the high tunnel were covered by Andy Fellenz.
NOFA 2016 Summer Conference, Amherst Massachusetts, August 11-14, 2016
- High Tunnels: From Three Seasons to Four – This half day intensive dealt with all aspects of high tunnel growing. In the equipment portion of the talk, construction and operation of the high tunnel sprayer was discussed. Design details and performance characteristics of the sprayer were reviewed and the decision criteria used to develop the sprayer were discussed.
- Labor Saving Practices in a High Tunnel – This workshop discussed a wide range of labor saving practices for high tunnel growers including spraying practices and the use of the high tunnel sprayer built through this project compared to use of backpack and caddy sprayers.
High Tunnel Pest and Disease Management Twilight Meeting @Fellenz Family Farm, Phelps NY 8/2/2016
- Jud Reid and Cordelia Hall from Cornell Cooperative Extension delivered a program on pest and disease management in the high tunnel. Andy Fellenz discussed the sprayer and sprayer project. Erik Fellenz discussed details of the sprayer’s construction. Both Andy and Erik addressed sprayer related questions and Erik had one-on-one conversations with several people at the meeting.
- Information on the project is posted at FarmHack.org. Do it yourselfers can find information on the Farm Hack website which will be helpful in understanding how the sprayer was developed and what materials were used to construct the sprayer. http://farmhack.org/tools/high-tunnel-bed-and-trellised-crops-sprayer
The project was successful insofar as it demonstrated that a relatively low cost sprayer, compared to dedicated greenhouse equipment, could be fabricated. The sprayer built in this project significantly reduces the amount of time required to spray in a high tunnel and improves the accuracy with which spray materials are deposited in the tunnel compared to what is achieved using a backpack sprayer.
Ideally, someone will pick up the ball and commercialize a sprayer similar to the one developed through this project. There are significant opportunities to reduce manufacturing cost if the concept is commercialized. The efficacy of the design has been proven and the time savings for the farmer in using this type sprayer are significant. For now, information is available at www.farmhack.org on the sprayer project for someone who would like to build their own sprayer.
I am happy to discuss this project and what we learned regarding small sprayer construction with anyone who is interested in building something similar on their farm. Email works best for the initial contact. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.