Enhanced field speeds aren’t a new phenomenon, but with manufacturers rolling out equipment they say can double the speed of planting operations, for example, the subject of speed in farming has taken on a new aura. But increasing the speed of field operations almost always involves some sort of tradeoff. However, if going faster through fields impacts efficiency or crop yields, most experts agree it’s not an acceptable tradeoff.
Over the years, spraying is where field speed has been most evident in field operations. It’s not uncommon for sprayers to work at 14 or even 18 mph, according to Saik. At the same time, he adds, “No operator can continuously run the wide equipment we have today at these speeds without guidance. It’s guidance that’s actually making the equipment width palatable and it’s guidance that’s making the speed palatable.”
That said, Fulton believes spraying — and specifically nitrogen application — may be a field operation where speed and accuracy can be partnered to improve efficiency. Fulton says the development of high-clearance sprayers allows farmers to rapidly cover acres in-season.
“Those machines are expensive, but whether it’s granular or late-season application with those high-clearance nitrogen toolbars, it’s going to be faster than sidedressing because those are tractor-drawn implements,” Fulton says. “We’ve been working on that and in Alabama, we had no trouble running 12 mph with a 40 foot bar from Hagie applying liquid nitrogen to late-season corn.
“Compared to running about 5-8 mph with a sidedress rig, where field conditions were a limiting factor, what took us 3 days to do this spring, we did in 1 day because it’s a smooth ride and has the capacity to double our speeds.”
Paul Jasa, extension engineer at the Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln, says operating sprayers at high speeds is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. “The floaters are out there and farmers in Nebraska have been running sprayers in wheat stubble at 20 mph for at least 25 years. I don’t think they should go any faster because of problems with particle drift and wind interference,” he says.
In fact, he points out, “EPA will slap your fingers real fast if you spray when the wind is blowing more than 10 mph. So, if a sprayer is already moving at 10 mph, that means the spray is subject to at least a 10 mph wind.”
Dave Fick of Dave’s Repair Farm Equipment in Hills, Minn., couldn’t agree more. In addition to farming corn-on-corn, Fick is also a dealer of dozens of brands of shortline farm machinery. His specialty is sprayers and in his experience, the best job of spraying is “probably when it’s done a little faster than planting speed.
“Everybody’s out there trying to spray at 10-15 mph to cover a lot of acres as fast as possible. The custom applicators are paid by the acre instead of by the hour, so the faster they go, the more acres they get done.
“We handle Hardi sprayers, which are built by Exel Industries. I’ve been to Denmark where they do their testing. They showed that running at 6 mph did the best job of spraying,” says Fick.
He says the problem with the higher speeds is it causes more movement in the booms, which leads to uneven coverage of the plants. “The boom jumps around more and it causes skips in your application because it’s not riding steady. Every time the boom is on an up-jump, less chemical ends up on your plants and on the downswing, you get more on the plants. I’ve found those driving at higher speeds have a lot more problems than those who are driving slower.”
Kastens, too, is doubtful that spraying operations can get much faster. “I’m not sure we can pick up much more speed because when you’re traveling, say, 20 mph, all the electronics have to respond faster,” he explains. “Sure, nozzles shut off automatically, but it takes physical time to do it accurately, whether you’re shutting off the seed-drop on a planter or shutting off sprayer nozzles, all these functions take time to occur.”