With basic repairs, cleaning and storage you can prevent the bite of winter taking its toll on machines – and your pocket
Have you got your sprayer ready for what could be another cold winter? If you do, fair play, but if you don't it's certainly not too late.
This time of year really takes its toll on sprayers by causing hoses and valves to crack, so proper maintenance and winter storage for your sprayer provides a number of benefits.
As well as adding years to the sprayer's life, you also give yourself a head start for next season's spraying preparations. Sprayers are susceptible to frost damage and antifreeze should be used to protect the pump and lines.
Long-term exposure to the many pesticides that pass through a sprayer can corrode the sprayer components. In addition, trace amounts of pesticides lodged in the sprayer parts can damage crops if carried over to next spring.
For these reasons, it is essential that you thoroughly clean and decontaminate your sprayer before storing it away for the winter.
Before you start, make sure you are wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). After that, the first step is to fully rinse and clean the components. Start by removing the strainers and washing them by hand with soapy water. Rinse them and either store them somewhere safe or place them back in the sprayer where you can easily find them next season.
Cleaning the sprayer involves circulating water through the whole system and then applying it to a suitable site (somewhere where the rinse will not contaminate water supplies).
Remember, several rinses using a small volume (say around 10pc of the spray tank capacity) are more effective than just filling the spray tank once.
Make sure that you drain the spray tank properly; don't just open the valves and let it pour on the ground.
The outside of the sprayer should also be washed prior to winter storage. Repeat the draining process after re-rinsing the sprayer.
Make sure that you also drain any clean water rinse tanks prior to storage to avoid damage caused by water freezing inside.
After your sprayer has been rinsed and drained I know some farmers who take the opportunity to decontaminate it with a detergent.
A good idea in principle, but if you are doing this be sure to decontaminate both the inside and outside of the machine, running liquid through the boom structure and right out of the nozzles.
Again, you don't need to fill the sprayer – use only enough cleaning solution to completely fill the lines and provide enough agitation.
It can help to power wash the inside of the tank, but again, be sure to wear the proper PPE. If you do use a detergent, be sure to rinse the system with clean water again, opening all nozzles until they are spraying out pure water.
Carry out repairs
Before you take the final step of circulating antifreeze in the sprayer for cold weather protection, take the time to inspect the overall sprayer body for any defects.33.
In particular, check the tank for cracks, the nozzles for wear, the pump and hoses for cracks or leaks, and the boom structure for cracks that might need to be repaired.
The filter screen should be checked for damage and replaced if necessary. Winter is the best time to carry out repairs and service machinery because the farm is quieter.
The other benefit that is often overlooked is that the local machinery dealer will be quieter as well and you can negotiate better deals on replacement parts.
Now is the time to act. Why wait until spring when things are hectic again?
Finally – and most importantly given how cold the last few winters have turned out – circulate antifreeze through the sprayer and all plumbing, including booms, valves, manifolds, flow meters and return lines.
Make sure you allow the antifreeze to circulate through the boom's hoses (this will coat the hose linings to prevent them drying out and cracking).
Capping all boom nozzles will help keep the antifreeze in the system, but remember you will first have to open one or two nozzles to allow air out and the antifreeze to get right through the boom.
Cap the nozzles again when antifreeze has completely filled the system. You will know this when you see the coloured antifreeze mixture coming from the nozzles.
The goal for the storage phase is for the anti-freeze to push out residual water that may be in the system and to coat all of the sprayer's components.
Allow the antifreeze to sit in the pump and valves to avoid rusting and damage that can be caused by moist air being trapped in the system.
To keep costs down, it is perfectly alright to use the same antifreeze mixture again next year by simply storing it in a barrel over the working season.
I know some farmers who have been using the same stuff for a few years and it works perfectly. Just be careful to store it away from animal and human contact when not being used.
Finally, take the pressure gauge off the sprayer and store in it a warm, dry place to prevent damage from the cold weather. Remember to cap the pressure gauge opening.
The sprayer is now ready to be stored indoors and will be safe against temperatures as low as minus 15C.
More importantly, your pocket will be protected from the effects of frost damage come next spring.