Demand is up for high-capacity, self-propelled sprayers. All of the major sprayer manufacturers report a sharp rise in sales this year for 1,000-plus-gal. models, with growers accounting for the bulk of the growth.

Hagie Manufacturing, which launched a 1,000-gal. model, the STX10, last fall, is already sold out through the summer.

“Orders are backed up until September, and we have orders ready to be placed once the 2012 pricing is finished,” says Jim Williams, product marketing engineer with Hagie. “We’re expecting an increase in machine sales, possibly the largest number we’ve had in 20 years. So long as commodity prices are high and people aren’t struggling to make a profit, we expect the market strength to continue, or get stronger.”

In response to demand for high-capacity sprayers over 1,000 gal., Hagie, along with AGCO, John Deere, New Holland, Equipment Technologies, Miller St. Nazianz, and GVM, have launched new models for 2011, joining Case IH and Versatile in the list of offerings. Some sprayers are equipped with tanks as big as 1,600 gal., booms as long as 120 ft., and a host of high-tech features that were formerly reserved for custom applicators.

Drivers of demand
Manufacturers cite three main factors driving demand. One is higher farm profits. Coming off a year of record corn and bean prices, many farmers finally have the capital they need to invest in new equipment.

Tim Criddle, marketing director for Miller St. Nazianz, says farmers with good income are taking the opportunity to identify their equipment shortcomings or operational inefficiencies and are replacing or upgrading equipment. “Older pull-type sprayers are being retired, older self-propelled sprayers are being traded in, and newer, more productive sprayers are rolling into their yards,” Criddle says.

Larger farm sizes are another trend. Growers today must cover more ground in the same amount of time due to rapid farm consolidation. Stopping to refill on chemicals takes time, so farmers are upgrading to bigger tanks to lengthen fill intervals.

A third factor is timeliness of application. The list of products farmers need to apply has gotten long in recent years, and each product has its own application window. “Farmers today have to control for bugs, worms, weeds and diseases,” says Jim Collins, vice president of GVM West. “There are just so many trips they have to make nowadays.”

“By owning their own sprayer, growers can target the application for the right agronomic moment — as opposed to waiting for the local commercial applicator to show up,” offers Ken Lehmann, sales and marketing manager for Case IH Patriot sprayers. “There is also the sense that if you do an application job yourself, you know it was done the way you want it.”

Manufacturers also cited these reasons for the strong growth in sprayer sales: high resale values for used equipment, buying early to avoid costs associated with Tier 4 engines, and a shift away from tillage to control weeds.

All of these factors are driving up demand for sprayers with bigger tanks, wider booms, and high-tech features that make the job of spraying more efficient.

Cutting-edge features
Growers who upgrade to these bigger rigs benefit not only from larger tanks but also the premium high-tech features and comforts that come along with them. Here are just a few of the technologies being offered:

  • Five-way nozzle bodies (vs. single-nozzle bodies)
  • Factory-installed autosteer
  • RTK correction for sub-inch positioning accuracy
  • Automatic boom section shutoff to save on inputs
  • Automatic boom height control
  • Camera systems to monitor activity
  • Variable-rate technology (VRT) with individual nozzle control for prescription applications
  • Continuously variable transmission (CVT), featured for first time by AGCO
  • Telemetry systems that allow for fleet management, vehicle diagnostics, and wireless data transfer between field and office

Can you afford one?
Not all growers will be able to justify owning a new high-capacity sprayer. According to Mark Sharitz, director of marketing, AGCO Application Equipment, finding the best value comes down to knowing specifics, such as what the targeted application will be and how many acres you will need to cover. “A 400- or 700-gal. SpraCoupe may make more sense for smaller farm operators, whereas a 1,300-gal. RoGator would be a better fit on larger farm operations,” he says.

So how do you determine what size sprayer you can justify? Kevin Dhuyvetter, agricultural economist at Kansas State University Research and Extension, says that 10,000 to 12,000 total acres sprayed per year has historically been the break-even level where it makes economic sense for a farmer to buy his own self-propelled sprayer.

However, he says that figure has less meaning lately because other variables also have become important, including the increased availability of used sprayers, whether or not a farmer custom applies, the increased use of fungicides (which warrant a second or third pass across a field), and the location and quality of custom application services.

Because of these factors, Dhuyvetter says, you should pencil out the numbers for your own situation. “You should take the cost of owning and operating a new or used sprayer you want to buy and divide that number by the total number of acres you plan to cover, including multiple trips, to come up with a per-acre cost,” Dhuyvetter says. “You can then compare that cost to what it would cost to have your inputs custom applied.”

Dhuyvetter and his colleague Terry Kastens have developed an Excel spreadsheet called OwnSprayer.xls to help with this calculation. Other tools, such as KSU’s Guidance & Section Control Profit Calculator, can be used to analyze technologies associated with guidance systems and section controllers.

Dhuyvetter says there are a number of advantages to owning your own sprayer. One is saving on chemical costs. “Growers feel they can get chemicals at a lower cost if they have their own sprayer,” he says.

Another one is ease of use. He says sprayer technology is so much easier to use today than in the past. A third advantage is how close your fields are to you compared to their proximity to custom applicators. “Farmers actually have an advantage in terms of efficiency of use,” Dhuyvetter says. “So a number of things come into play that make ownership [as opposed to hiring] potentially feasible.”

In the end, he says, operators of larger farms often can apply herbicides and fungicides cheaper with their own sprayer than a custom applicator can. For smaller operations, Dhuyvetter says that hiring someone else for the application is cheaper. “It often comes down to how efficiently I use that piece of equipment,” he explains. “As a general rule, larger operators can be very competitive with custom applicators, but it’s more difficult for smaller farmers to be competitive.”