How Much ‘Opportunity Cost’ Can You Afford to Spend on Sprayer Inefficiency?

The old cliché, time is money, can sound more like an excuse than an explanation when it comes to summing up the significance of an efficient spraying operation.

But farmers, co-ops, ag retailers, and custom applicators expect a measurable return on the equipment and technology used to apply pricey chemicals and can’t afford to squander their investment of time or money.

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So how effective are today’s sprayers in squeezing the most ROI out of every applied acre?

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Perhaps the first question that we should ask is ‘How much is inefficiency costing my spraying operation?’

“Timing is everything, and I look at a spraying operation in terms of opportunity cost,” says Tom Wolf, co-founder of Sprayers101.com. “Farmers, operators and managers who value the time they invest in their spraying program want to find ways to spend it more efficiently.”

Wolf uses the example of a farmer with 1,000 acres of herbicide to spray, but heavy rains prevent timely application of the last 100 acres, which would have taken an hour to finish. Five days later, the farmer gets back into the field to finish spraying, but by then, invasive weeds could have stolen 2-3 bushels per acre of soybean yield, says Wolf.

“Assuming $10 per bushel, across 100 acres, the economic loss could be upwards of $3,000. So how much was that hour worth?” he says.

Today, ongoing labor shortages, kinks in the farm equipment supply chain and rising input costs are influencing sprayer efficiency. Quantifying the economics of opportunity cost can be a moving target, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim for the best bang-for-your-buck bullseye.

Sprayers101 provides a handy sprayer productivity calculator to compare variables (tank capacity, boom width, speed, etc.) and help derive a baseline report, along with areas in need of improvement.

Let’s take Wolf’s 100-acres of opportunity cost example and consider equipment productivity – contrasting the size, average price and load times of two sizes of sprayers.

We’ve calculated the cost per acre/hour efficiency of loading a 1,200-gallon, 120-foot boom sprayer ($385,000) in 15 minutes and loading an 800-gallon, 90-foot boom machine ($292,000) in 5 minutes. Both sprayers were equipped with modern pulsing nozzle technology and guidance.

The price difference of 100 acres per hour of productivity for the 1,200-gallon sprayer was almost a third higher ($93,000) than the 800-gallon machine. Opportunity cost can add up quickly, especially when you consider that on average, sprayers are only working in the field a third of the time.

Our sprayer comparison produced a few more telling takeaways:

  • Spending 10% more for a larger sprayer will increase productivity by about 8%.
  • Spending 7% more for an automated mixing system can increase productivity by 20- 30%.
  • Slower loading times increase the cost per acre/hour of productivity by 26-42%.

Thinking about the demands farmers face today, can they afford to spend a third of their day being unproductive? The same efficiency mindset can be applied to sprayers.

One of the most economic ways to reduce opportunity cost is by being more productive with idle time. What if you could load a 1,200-gallon sprayer in half the time or add 10% to your bottom line?

An advanced automated mixing solution can be an economic entry point to measurable efficiency gains in your spraying operation, making idle time more productive and allowing operators to cover more acres in a day.

The average sprayer is surprisingly inefficient and on our farm we were seeking better ways to load the sprayer efficiently, get accurate records, and reduce exposure to the chemicals. It’s why we build Mixmate.

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