A New, Lighter Sprayer

This week I took delivery on a new Apache AS1220 sprayer. As the first new machine on my farm since 2004, and the first new equipment deal that I’ve worked out entirely on my own, I’m excited. Actually, this new sprayer is a conservation purchase. It is replacing my 2012 model John Deere 4830. Several benefits that it offers over my previous sprayer translate into better conservation practices.

two sprayers

With a dry weight of 20,300 pounds, compared to the 4830 at 25,300#, it is 5,000# lighter. This means less compaction, less likely to create ditches, less getting stuck, and less power needed, which brings us to engine size.

The Apache uses a 215 horsepower Cummins Turbo diesel engine compared to the John Deere 4830’s 275 hp engine. At 28% of the JD’s size, one might think I got a much smaller sprayer, but it has the same width (100 foot) boom, so I will continue to drive in the exact same field tracks as in the past, and it actually has a 20% larger chemical tank capacity at 1200 gallons. Plus, the John Deere tops out at a road speed of 30 mph empty, whereas the Apache runs >35 mph.

One of the problems bogging down the John Deere sprayers is the hydrostatic drive system. It converts engine torque to hydraulic pressure which is pumped through hoses down to hydraulic wheel motors where it must be converted back into mechanical torque. There is some efficiency lost in this double conversion. Granted, John Deere had a reason to design the system this way: to gain height for driving through a tall crop. It has a clearance of 60 inches without axles. But since I don’t need to drive over tall crops, the Apache’s 50 inch clearance is plenty, and I get the added bonus of safety since it is not so top-heavy.

Some of the John Deere’s extra power may also be dedicated to it being in 4×4 all the time, whereas the Apache is only 2×4 (but it has a differential lock). Its too bad that didn’t translate into the John Deere being less likely to get stuck in the mud. I never got my previous GVM brand sprayer stuck until I got the John Deere. Not unlike other 4830 owners, we had it stuck several times in places that surprised us.

Another feature of the new Apache sprayer is 9 boom sections.  That means there are 9 switches which can be operated automatically or manually to cut off the chemical and/or fertilizer being sprayed across the spray boom in sections as I come to a headland.  This reduces overlap crop damage and wasted chemicals by an extra 21% over the John Deere.  The feature is called AccuBoom, and is 89% more efficient than controlling spray by a single on/off function on headlands.

After all those conservation benefits are considered, the Apache sprayer is easier to work on, has greater visibility of front tires to help driving between the rows, and cost $100,000 less than a new John Deere the same size!

Chemical Drift Control

This week while my employee (and cousin), Jonathan, was spraying the burn-down application on a field going into corn, I noticed that the spray was not settling to the ground properly.  There are adjuvants to fix that and I had some on hand.  We had planed on using Justified if the wind was moderate or when near sensitive areas like yards or other crops, but that day we were all alone in the middle of some big fields with a 2-4 mph calm wind.  However, since the rows were so long he was traveling 15 mph and building up 50 psi which creates very small droplets like fog that hang in the air too long.  So I decided to see if Justified would help.

The difference in spraying with and without Justified is obvious in the pictures below.  There was such little wind that day the spray would just hang out over the surface of the ground until it either fell or evaporated.  I quickly added Justified to the tank and you can see the difference.  It is possible that I will get a better kill on the area with the deposition agent.

spray drift spray no drift

Spray tip selection is also important.  Spray parts manufacturers like TeeJet have guides like this to help me know their products and select the right one for the job.  I currently have and use six different tips for different applications and conditions.  That day I was using our most common tip, an Air Induction Extended Range or AIXR.  Air induction is how that tip creates unique bubble-like droplets to reduce drift without sacrificing much in leaf coverage.  Here is an article by Cornell University on air induction tips.


bee children

My first custom pollination job has arrived!  It is truly exciting for my family to have 288 hives of honey bees brought in to help pollinate our canola crop.  Although canola is known as self-pollinating, field tests from other countries have shown a pretty good yield increase from bee assisted pollination when the numbers of hives are great enough.

open hive old

These bees came straight to my farm from California almond groves, where their work is hard and the pollen is not very good for them, but that is a crop where bee keepers make their money.  Crops like canola are an excellent source of protein, fat, and sugar rich pollen to bring tired, weak, de-populated colonies back into a state of prime strength.

bee hives built once

After the bees had only been at their new home on my farm for a week, the bee keepers came and built up the hives with extra boxes full of foundations for new honeycombs.  It won’t be long before the beeswax combs will be built and filled with honey.  I am planning to bottle and sell some of the honey in May.


Canola is preparing to bolt


First Canola Bloom

Spring always seems early to me.  This year a new flower bore the welcome sign, a bright yellow canola bloom!  It won’t be long before the whole field is bursting with blooms which will be visited by another new sight on the farm, commercial bees!  They aren’t my bees, but I am hosting them for a few weeks while my crop feeds them valuable pollen in return for what I expect to be an increase in yield that could reach 15%.  This type of canola, brassica napus, is known to pollinate just fine on its own, but studies show a valuable increase in yield and maturity.  The bees do what the wind would otherwise do, except faster and more thoroughly.  It may prove to speed maturity enough to be able to harvest a day or two sooner in June, which will also carry value because we will be able to get the double-crop soybeans in that much sooner.  Soybeans need to be planted in a specific window depending on their relative maturity in order to maximize their use of long summer daylight hours.

Later this week, when the effects of 6 inches of rain are mostly gone, I plan to give this crop a does of nitrogen and sulfur as 28% UAN to last it through the critical fast growing period and reproductive stages ahead.  I thank the Lord that this rain came before I applied the nitrogen rather than afterward because nitrogen leaches into the soil or runs off to a ditch about as easily as water making it wasted money and potentially harmful to fish downstream.


As the rains fall…

As the rains fall from December through March I do not worry much about my fields.  25% of them are planted into canola or wheat and the crops look thick and lush.  Some erodible hillsides are planted in wheat as a cover crop.  The rest of my fields have natural winter annuals growing in them because I don’t practice “winter fallow” residual spraying to keep the weeds down between crops.  My field waterways and roadside ditches may run full in a big rain, but are lined with thick grass sod that I maintain so as to not color the water with suspended mud washing from my fields into the rivers.

Near the end of a heavy rain is a perfect time to scout for soil conservation problems.  Here are some images from recent scouting after heavy winter rains. Over all, I consider my work and practices successful because this water is clean.

The water in the image below is running down a grass waterway that is planted at the base of some of the steepest slopes that we will plant.  The field and grassed waterway are holding together nicely.  The rock structure in the foreground is where the grass waterway empties into a culvert to go under the road.  The large rock slows the water down and causes it to travel on top so it will not wash out a ditch.  No ditch = no erosion.

Clear runoff from 8-12% slopes after a three inch rain.

Below, this is NOT my field washing across the road. It is the topsoil from a neighbor’s field who plants after conventional tillage with a disk.  We sold our disk years ago and I’ve never experienced this kind of destruction of land.  Some of this valuable loam will end up in the Mississippi River and be carried down to the estuary at New Orleans.

NOT my field

When culverts aren’t able to carry the full load of water, sometimes I get washes across the road too.  This is my field with clear water running across the road. There is an area of about 45 acres draining into this area with slopes of up to 8%.

Clear Road wash

Here is runoff on top of controlled runoff at the end of a 10″ pipe carrying water from a terrace in a grassed waterway about 400′ above this ejection point at the road culvert. It is running full force with clear water draining about 60 acres. There is no erosion in my fields from this 3″ December rain!

clear pipe ejection


List of Recycling and Clean Environment Practices

Trash and Recycling and Environmental Cleanliness

  • General dumping on farm is no longer acceptable as it was in previous decades.
  • All trash is either recycled or disposed of properly.
  • Concrete disposal is localized.
  • Metal (steel, aluminum, copper) is recycled.
  • Waste Hazardous Chemicals are minimized and disposed of properly and in accordance with laws.
  • Tire purchases are minimized and old tires are disposed of in compliance with laws.
  • Seed bag waste is minimized by use of reusable bulk containers.
  • Brush and wood scraps are piled to decompose on-farm rather than sent to landfills.
  • Some paper, plastic, and glass is recycled.
  • We pick up roadside trash along several miles of country roads.
  • Old, unwanted barns have been recycled for reclaimed lumber and roofing metal.
  • Household food scraps are fed to animals and post-season unsold fall pumpkins are bought for feed.
  • Whenever a new farm is purchased it gets a thorough cleaning of trash, much of which is recycled, and has amounted to thousands of pounds.