Optimizing Your Backpack Sprayer

Backpack sprayers being discussed by John Grande, Ph.D., from the Rutgers Synder Research and Extension Farm.

Most farms have at least one backpack sprayer. They are cheap to buy, easy to run and are an efficient way to get the sprays on the crop. My farm is small enough that I will probably never use a tractor-mounted spray rig but we put the two backpack sprayers that we have through their paces during our season. While most of the time we are spraying a fish/kelp mix to feed the crop, there are times where we try to kill bugs or prevent disease. An “out of the box” sprayer lacks a level of consistency that can be really important when it comes to applying some of the protectants that are available to organic growers.

Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s safe if you misuse it. There are lots of products available to us that have very strong active ingredients and they should be applied in a way that is consistent with their label. Not only for the safety of the farmer, but for the safety of your workers, other non-targeted and beneficial insects and animals that live on your farm, and your downstream neighbors. Lastly, we only have a few active agents that we can use as organic growers, and if we misuse them, their efficacy will diminish, and we will have fewer tools for our farms.

In 2011 I went to the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference in Manchester NH, and there was a presentation on “Optimizing the Use of Backpack Sprayers for Pesticide Application,” presented by John Grande of Rutgers University. He talked about the testing that he did of different models of sprayers and explained his methods to calibrate them so they put down a consistent amount of product.  I will be converting my spray rig this spring with a pressure regulator and a better set of tips.

My intention was to document this conversion for this article but I think that the information will be most useful to you firsthand.  Fortunately, there is a source that documents the whole conversion procedure, and it’s an amazing resource. I encourage you to follow this link and check it out. All the info you need is here, and there are great videos as well. My thanks to John Grande and Jack Rabin of Rutgers University for developing this link:

http://snyderfarm.rutgers.edu/snyder-backpack-sprayers.html

Of course, now that you are ready to go spray with your new rig, make sure that you are on the right side of the law. Here’s a link to an article I wrote a while back about the Worker Protection Standard.

I hope the season is going well for you and your farm.

Paul

This entry was posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Plant Diseases, Plant Pests. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Optimizing Your Backpack Sprayer

  1. This is great, Paul! Any tips on making the sprayers more comfortable to use? Obviously calibration is most important, but we’ve got a 5-gallon sprayer and it’s really a back-killer over an afternoon.

    • Paul Betz says:

      Aside from adding some padding on the straps, you could also try adding a cross strap to hold the two main straps across your chest. Anything to get the pack tighter to your body. I have a Solo type, and just put up with it for the time that I have to wear it.

    • John says:

      I have 2 thoughts about making backpack sprayers more comfortable and less fatiguing.
      1] Our evaluation efforts have indicated the best solution is utilizing a sprayer with a large internally mounted piston pump and a handle with a leveraging system to multiply pumping force. These type of sprayers require must less muscle power and spray more liquid per pump stroke. In our tests we utilized farm staff to evaluate fatigue and invariably sprayers as outlined above were preferred over sprayers with a direct connection to a externally mounted small pump . An equal pressures [30 PSI] and spray volumes [0.34 GPM] internally mounted large pumps with a leveraging system handle required approximately 82 pump strokes per gallon of spray while the small externally mounted pumps directly connected to the handle required approximately 109 pump strokes.
      In other words you can get your spraying applications accomplished faster with the large internally mounted pumps. The faster you get the job done the less fatigue from carrying the weight.

      2] Padded straps have improved over the years on many models of backpack sprayers but certainly someone with the ability to fabricate and adapt could likely utilize straps from high-end mountaineering backpacks . I have never seen a backpack sprayer equipped with a high-end strapping system to distribute the weight across the back and hips as mountaineering backpacks do.

  2. nancy smith says:

    If you are organic, why are you spraying anything at all? Why not just heavily mulch? It makes me question if foods marked “organic” really are. Guess we need to grow all our own food.

    • Paul Betz says:

      There are lots of products that can be sprayed that are naturally derived, very target specific, and allowed on a Certified Organic farm. Mulching would work if I was trying to keep weeds down, but my main interest is pest control and disease suppression, when needed, as well as feeding the crop when they need a little extra help in the season. I am careful to use these products in a way that protects me, my workers, my farm, and my customers.

    • A Critic says:

      Why spray? Crop failures suck.

    • Kevin says:

      There are things you can spray that are organic and not synthetic chemicals. For instance, you can foliar feed compost tea using a backpack sprayer.

  3. I have 2 sprayers for my .54 acres, a small hand held for small jobs, a 3 gallon for bigger jobs. I also have a hose attachment sprayer for fish concentrates. Just because someone uses sprayers doesn’t mean their not organic.

  4. Pingback: What’s Wrong with My Garden? Part 1: How to Manage Common Insect Pests | High Mowing Organic Seeds' Blog – The Seed Hopper

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