Ag Sprayers - Stop Wasting Money

Posted by Andrew Greess on May 30, 2009

We often hear from golf course superintendents and equipment managers that they don’t ever seem to get the life out of their  ag spray rigs and golf course sprayers that they would like. Common concerns: equipment wears out too soon, employees destroy equipment, equipment is down waiting for repairs, etc. We have found that proper spray equipment design, operating procedures and equipment management policies can significantly reduce problems and boost productivity.

In this article we will review the impact each of these aspects has on equipment life and productivity, as well as give you specific ideas to improve your results. Golf course spray rigs must be designed for safety, reliability, ease of maintenance and productivity. Neglecting any of these factors will hurt productivity, increase maintenance costs and downtime, and reduce equipment life. If the equipment is not properly designed for safety, your employees may experience acute injuries (cuts, burns, scrapes, etc.); back-related injuries or chemical spills could endanger employees, the public, or require expensive cleanups.

When discussing reliability we ask, are the correct components installed for your application? For example, the wrong type of pump may not stand up the products you are applying. If equipment isn’t designed for easy maintenance, key tasks will either be skipped or may require excessive, expensive downtime. Design for productivity means that the equipment is designed to your employees in mind so they can do their jobs effectively with the equipment supporting, rather than hindering, their efforts. Equipment Operating Procedures Do you have the correct operating procedures in place for your employees to follow? If not, count on equipment breakdowns, higher repair expenses and shorter equipment life.

A few simple rules will extend the life of your equipment, reduce downtime and save money on repairs. Equipment Management Policies There are a number of policies you can implement that will further extend the life and productivity of your spray equipment. Most are relatively easy and do not require a lot of time or effort. Here are some specific questions to ask to ensure your equipment, policies and procedures are as effective as possible:

A1. Equipment Design – Safety

1. Are all moving or hot parts shielded to protect employees?
2. Are there any protruding sharp corners, points, edges or rust that create a risk for employees?
3. Can employees access key components without injury, e.g., engine pull cord
4. Are components positioned to reduce/prevent back strain, e.g., height of hose reel

A2. Equipment Design – Reliability

1. Are the highest quality components used, e.g., Honda engines? Lower cost components may save money up front but will cost more when repairs and downtime are considered.

2. Are the components selected appropriate to the application? The wrong component will make it difficult for employees to effectively do their jobs. For example, centrifugal pumps are great for high volume applications but may not be appropriate if you have remote areas that require long hoses to reach. In these cases, diaphragm pumps may be a better choice. If you are applying an insoluble fertilizer that requires a great deal of agitation, you may need mechanical agitation or a significantly higher output pump to provide sufficient jet agitation.

3. Do your mechanics have the skills and tools to service all the components? Some pumps specialized tools for service. If you don't have the skills or tools in-house, be prepared for more expensive repairs and longer down time.

4. Are replacement parts and repair kits available for all components? Be sure to ask before buying. If parts must be shipped in, repairs will take longer and cost more.

5. Is the filtration designed appropriately for your situation? Filtration is one of the most critical factors influencing equipment life. The filtration system should be designed appropriately to water quality, material being applied and type of pump. If the filtration is too fine, filters will clog requiring continually cleaning or starving the pump of water and potentially causing expensive damage. If filtration is too coarse, debris will enter the system, possibly damaging the pump, or clogging hoses, fittings, and spray tips.

6. Is the equipment designed to prevent accidental damage, e.g., Do components overhang the frame, creating a risk of damage? Are sensitive components protected from accidental damage? Are electrical wires secured to prevent snagging? Are plumbing fittings/clamps in stress points of high quality to prevent damage/leaks? For example, plastic fittings in the wrong place can snap and cause chemical spills.

A3. Equipment Design – Ease of Maintenance 

1. Can the pump be easily removed for service? If not, be prepared for longer servicing downtime.

2. Can the engine be easily serviced (e.g., add/remove oil, change plugs, etc.)? We are continually amazed at the number of rig designs that make oil changes a major project.

3. Is the line strainer/filter plumbed for easy cleanout, regardless of whether the tank is full? If the filter is at a low point in the sprayer design, then a valve is required to shut off the tank so the filter can be checked even if the tank is full. Is the filter easy for technicians and mechanics to reach? Employees must be able to check and clean the filter any time. This is one of the single most important issues in sprayer design.

4. Can the flow of liquid to the pump be shut off to allow servicing when the tank is full?

5. Can the system be drained to reduce risk of freeze damage?

A4. Equipment Design – Productivity  Is the equipment designed for your specific application and to eliminate wasted time and chemicals? Does the equipment make it easy for the employee to do his job? Are frequently used components easily accessible?

B. Operating procedures: 

1. Check the Filter. The biggest secret in spray equipment is "check your filter". There is nothing your spray techs can do that will save you more money. We repair and replace more turf spray equipment because of clogged filters than for any other reason.

2. Release the pressure Your equipment will have fewer breakdowns and will last longer if you remove the stress of constant pressure. When done spraying, techs should release the pressure. Squeeze the handle of the spray gun so that the system is not under pressure. If you don't want to waste the material, spray it back into the tank. If you are using a diaphragm pump with its own control unit, completely release the pressure control. This will also make your pump engine easier to start the next time. Never store equipment overnight under pressure. This reduces equipment life and increases the risk of freeze damage.

3. Don't Run it Too Fast Don't push your equipment to its limits. Our experience is that techs run power spray rigs at high speeds to get their jobs done quickly.  This will reduce sprayer life. Make sure your techs know proper operating ranges. Higher pressure can cause smaller spray droplet size and more drift. Also, a burst hose at 300 PSI will cause a worse chemical spill than one at 100 PSI.

4. Clean it Out Make sure your spray technicians periodically clean the system with fresh water to remove chemical buildup and debris. Debris will clog your filter, starve your pump and damage spray tips. Be sure to follow herbicide labels and laws when cleaning out spray tanks.

5. Report Problems We are constantly amazed at the equipment problems employees will tolerate. They will continue to use leaking pumps, hose, backpacks, etc. Ignoring problems inevitably leads to higher repair expenses and increased down time. Encourage your employees to look and listen to their equipment and to report problems so that you can take the appropriate action before a small problem becomes a big (i.e., expensive) problem. Be sure they are trained to spot problems such as chemical in pump oil reservoirs or leaking pump seals.

C. Management Policies and Procedures

1. Perform Preventative Maintenance We know quite a few golf courses that have detailed PM schedules for their vehicles but not for their spray equipment. The pump in particular requires attention to prevent costly failures. Consult your owner's manual and equipment provider for recommendations. Diaphragm pumps in particular deserve attention. Technicians can continue to run these pumps even after the diaphragms have burst, often causing complete pump failure.

2. Inspect What You Expect. Just because you tell an employee to do something, doesn't always mean it gets done. Make sure your employees are following your operating policies for proper spray techniques. It is easy to check a filter or observe the pressure setting of the sprayer.

3. Training & Safety Meetings Just because you instructed your employees on their first day how you wanted it done, doesn't mean they are still doing it correctly. Reinforce the operating and safety ideas we have talked about herein. Ask employees for their ideas on improving safety and spray equipment design.

4. Pull Hose. Periodically go out with your spray technicians and actually do their job for a while. You will be surprised at the problems and opportunities you will find for improving how they do their job and how you design your equipment. You may find safety risks that they didn't report or productivity hindering issues that are costing you time and money.

5. Track Problems Track your equipment problems by piece of equipment, component and by technician. This will help you identify required changes to your equipment and training opportunities for techs.

6. Continuously Improve Equipment Design Over time you will identify improvement opportunities in your spray equipment. Keep a list. Discuss spray equipment design with your colleagues. Steal the best ideas. Replace components that are causing you problems.

When it comes time to order that new sprayer, work with your equipment provider to ensure all your (and his) good ideas are incorporated into the system Conclusion. Work with your spray equipment vendor to design equipment correctly. Work with your spray technicians to operate it correctly. Work with your equipment maintenance staff to service it correctly. With a little attention, you can get more life, more productivity and more value from your spray equipment. You will significantly reduce equipment downtime and equipment repair expense. Manage your spray equipment so it doesn't manage you.

Andrew Greess is the owner of Quality Equipment and Spray and a nationally published author and expert on spray equipment. You can reach him at or 1-800-675-7485.