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Sprayer buying tips for 2015 crop year

Sprayer buying tips for 2015 crop year
If you're planning on upgrading for next season, there are a few factors to consider.

If you’re considering the purchase of a sprayer for the 2015 season, there are several factors you’ll want to consider. Asking a few questions up front can help make the decision easier, too.

Some questions to ask yourself: Do I purchase new or used? Is leasing an option? What about just hiring someone to do it for me?

All of these are important, valid questions. But if buying ends up being your decision, there are a number of things you need to consider as you look to upgrade your sprayer for next season.

What can you cover?

COVERING THE TERRITORY: Investing in a larger sprayer can help you cover more acres in a day. But how does that idea pencil out versus the alternatives? Sharpening your pencil for key machinery decisions will be important in 2015. (Photo: John Deere)

According to Clarke McGrath, a field agronomist for Iowa State University Extension, taking a close look at capacity is one of the key steps in determining whether or not it’s the right time to upgrade your current sprayer.

“As long as you’re happy with the condition and options on your current rig, there’s nothing to worry about,” says McGrath, whose professional background includes managing a co-op and providing custom application services. “But if you need more capacity, it’s time to decide if you want an upgrade, or hire custom applicators to fill the gaps.”

McGrath says he encourages growers to look at self-propelled sprayers for a number of reasons, as long as they have the acreage to justify this type of investment. In particular, he believes self-propelled options offer advantages when it comes to speed, efficiency, capacity (acres per hour), clearance height, and less crop damage and soil compaction. However, he also acknowledges that many growers can “get along great” with a pull-type, or tractor-mounted sprayer, as they are generally user-friendly, easy to maintain and operate, and usually cost less.

“In general, the key to a sprayer purchase is taking a good look at what your spray needs are this season, but also for the next four or five years after that,” advises McGrath, who says looking for used equipment is always an option, but doing research on what you’re potentially buying is important.  

Gregg Ibendahl, an associate professor in ag economics at Kansas State University, concurs with McGrath about used equipment being a viable option for any grower looking to make a sprayer purchase. However, he believes you need to do some side-by-side calculations and comparisons before buying.

“You need to evaluate the cost of operating new equipment versus the cost of operating used equipment,” says Ibendahl. “It’s hard to put a dollar value on the reliability of any piece of equipment, but you need to consider this as well.”

Ibendahl points out that used, older equipment will probably have more breakdowns, so you need to try and determine how much any downtime is going to cost you — all of which is part of putting a dollar value on reliability. However, purchasing new equipment comes with a higher price tag, as well as costs related to depreciation and even repair and maintenance. 

Considering new

Buying new, though, certainly has some advantages when you consider the advances that have occurred in the sprayer market and the warranties that typically come with new equipment.

“In the last 10 years there has been a steady improvement in precision agriculture, so we’re now to the point where individual nozzles will turn themselves off so as to prevent overlap,” says McGrath. 

According to McGrath, there are no real “game-changers” when it comes to sprayer features for 2015, but he says there have been plenty of other recent advancements in technology that have resulted in more overall reliability and dependability. These advancements include automatic boom height sensors, automatic boom levelers, drift control technology, instant flow rate controls, cleaning systems, and stainless steel tanks and plumbing.

And many of those improvements are available in both self-propelled, and pull-type or mounted sprayers. Precision application has been a catchphrase the industry has taken very seriously.

“All of these features keep getting better and better. Autosteering, in particular, has come light years from where it was even just five years ago,” offers McGrath. “It’s hard to put a price tag on operator comfort or fatigue!”

Bottom line, experts say there are a number of things to consider before you purchase a sprayer, whether it’s new or used. Features and technology are important parts of the equation, but you also need to make sure you identify other key variables and address them properly as a part of the decision-making process. 

“From a grower perspective, when compared to something as complex as a combine, sprayers are pretty simple because they require relatively basic maintenance and winterization. So, if you size the sprayer right and take care of it, a good sprayer can last you a decade or more,” says McGrath.

Considering a sprayer?

As much as everyone likes to have full control over all aspects of their business, investing in new or used equipment isn’t always the best option. This is especially the case if the size of your operation isn’t big enough to warrant the purchase of a sprayer, which is used on a limited basis when compared to other farm machines. Given this, growers need to ask themselves some key questions and do a bit of careful calculating before buying.

“Almost everybody sprays their crops at least twice. So, if you’re paying someone $6 to $7 per acre to spray your fields, you can make the case that it may not be a big leap of faith to buy a $100,000-plus sprayer,” says agronomist Clarke McGrath. “It comes down to putting a value on your time availability and your desire to sit in the sprayer and do the work. What’s your time worth?”

And a pull-type or mounted sprayer would cost even less, yet offer some convenience and precision features newer to the industry.

As McGrath points out, growers can often justify having someone else (like the local co-op) do their spraying because there are plenty of other things that need to be done on any farm. But he also says some people “love running equipment” and are very particular about how things are done even when it comes to spraying.

At the end of the day, though, deciding whether to do it yourself or hire it out usually comes down to the impact it has on the bottom line.

“Growers need to ask themselves, ‘Am I really going to need this [sprayer] enough days to own it myself?’ It’s a unique situation for each grower, depending on their individual circumstances. But the bigger you are, the more likely you’re able to purchase custom equipment,” says ag economist Gregg Ibendahl, who notes that lower grain prices this coming year will also likely impact new purchases made in 2015.

- Yontz writes from Urbandale, Iowa.

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