Sprayers, what has changed in recent years?

While waiting for the “new” Pan, we take stock of the situation by summarizing the provisions of the “old”. But the picture of the machines used in Italy is still uncertain

More than five years after the last deadline for the functional control of sprayers and seven years after the entry into force of the National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products (PAN), there is still no true picture of the number of machines. worked in Italy. If the agromechanical companies, although with some delay, have respected the deadlines of the first check and have subjected the machines to subsequent controls, for farmers the situation is somewhat diversified among the Italian regions.

Where the control activity had started even before the issuance of the PAN, the number of controls is high and close to that of those authorized to buy and use agropharmaceuticals, confirming that most machines are in working order. are surveyed and verified. On the other hand, the functional verification, with the exception of contractors, affected only a minority of farms, although the number is destined to increase as a result of the controls of compliance with environmental regulations, which provide for access to a part of the community contributions.

While no one is unbalanced to give accurate figures, it now seems clear that the estimate of half a million machines in Italy should be reduced, unless we admit a failure of the PAN that seems implausible to us: there will be many sprayers, but those actually used in a professional context are much less so.

Reduced controls due to the pandemic

To stimulate some resistance on the part of the peasants were, at least at first, the positions adopted by the agricultural representatives. Why bother with NAP, when you can entrust everything to the subcontractor and save money on checks? Gradually, professional farmers seem to have been convinced, although in the last two years the controls have been slightly reduced by the effects of the pandemic and especially by the expansion linked to the continuity of the alarm state.

It is good to keep in mind that the directive from which all this was born dates back to 2009 and, after 12 years, it may still seem absurd to talk about unverified media, as well as the delay in issuing the new Plan, which should have been done in due course, seems questionable as of 11/26/2019.

Summarizing the forecasts of the “old” Paella and pending the “new”, all sprayers that can be defined as “machines”, ie powered by a source of energy other than muscle, should be check with an authorized center. This includes:

– Horizontal bar sprayers, for the defense of herbaceous crops, with pressure spraying or centrifugal distribution, of the self-propelled, towed, carried or semi-carried type;

– sprayers with pneumatic transport systems (cannons and air hose systems);

– Pneumatic sprayers of atomization, for the defense of woody crops, of traditional electrostatic type, including those with frame on horseback, with or without recovery;

– Sprayers with cart or backpack, if they are motorized.

Sprayer controls have two main objectives, which are derived from Directive 2009/128: the first is connected to the broader Machinery Directive (of which we have seen the definition), ie safety for the operator, the second in the efficiency of the machine for the defense of plants, and therefore with the aim of protecting the consumer and the environment. The first is achieved by checking the status of the machine and its components, the second by functional control, which refers to the regulation of the distribution system for maximum efficiency and uniformity.

Under current regulations, the duration of the checks is 2 years for machines used on behalf of third parties and 3 years for farms.

Functional check

The main elements to check are:

1. Safety of mechanical transmissions: for machines driven by the tractor, from the cardan shaft and the relative protections, such as plugs and devices to prevent the rotation of the outer cover (chains), in addition to the transmissions for strap, which must be protected. , in accordance with the principles established by Community directives.

2. Pressure pumps and circuits: neither shall show visible leaks, dripping and sealing defects at normal operating pressure; here, in addition to safety for the operator (a jet of liquid under pressure can cause serious injury), we also consider protecting the environment from possible product loss.

3. Tank, pre-mixer, container washing system, agitator, level indicator: the tank must be intact and equipped with watertight lids; the premixer and the system of washing of containers have to be in perfect state of operation, as well as the agitator; the level indicator must be accurate and easy to read.

4. Manometers are tested for accuracy, with a test bench equipped with a precision manometer; if there is an on-board computer, the values ​​indicated on the display must correspond to those measured in the circuit. Analog manometers must be suitable for measuring and showing the exact operating pressure: if the sprayer is to work at 8-10 bar, a full scale manometer at 12 bar does not work in conditions of maximum accuracy (usually between 10% and 40 bar). % of scale); on the other hand, with a bottom scale of 120 bar it can be difficult to read pressure differences of a few bars, which in relative terms can mean 20-30% more or less.

5. The water inlet pipe, if it can allow the extraction of tanks, drains and canals, must be equipped with a check valve, perfectly sealed to prevent even a small amount of the mixture. present in the tank contaminates surface water. bodies; the filters must be in excellent condition, as must the handwash, if any.

6. The bar must guarantee a perfect horizontality, with a minimum tolerance, and the control of the height with respect to the ground; a ground contact protection system must be in place; the closing and opening of the bar must be done without jams (which may require manual operation); in addition, the bar must be able to be closed in sections, to respect safety distances and reduce environmental pollution.

7. The nozzles must be efficient (for example, they must not drip or change the shape of the nozzle as the pressure goes), be in good working order and possibly equipped with anti-drip systems.

8. In systems with pneumatic convection or nebulization, the fan, the condition and the efficiency of the deflectors, the integrity of the air ducts must be checked, with special attention to the flexible hoses.

At present, all deadlines for plant protection products are temporarily suspended, from license renewals to functional controls.

Check efficiency and quality

These instrumental and visual checks of the individual components of the machine are followed by the general one dedicated to the efficiency and the quality in the distribution:

– relative measurement of the flow of individual nozzles: it can be done with graduated tanks, placed in correspondence with the nozzles, verifying the amount emitted in a given time, which will give the flow in liters per unit time.

– uniformity between the individual nozzles, measured on a theoretical target, formed by pockets of plastic material arranged on a test bench, mounted on wheels to be able to check the entire length of the bar, in which each pocket is connected to a transparent tank. . By checking the height reached by the liquid in the individual sections, it is possible to evaluate the relative flow and its uniformity along the entire bar; for sprayers intended for working in tree crops, the target is mounted vertically and the pockets, with the corresponding tanks, are mounted in such a way that they remain vertical once the bench is rotated 90 ° in a horizontal position.

Test benches usually have such features that they can be easily transported in a light truck, which acts as a mobile laboratory and allows to cover very large areas of intervention. The authorized testing center must make use of qualified technicians, following a very strict training course, diversified in relation to the different types of machines; in any case, the qualification obtained in a region allows to control the sprayers of companies located in different regions. The verification ends with the issuance of a test certificate for the sprayer, with a sticker with the details of the authorized center and the date of execution.

It seems that the size of the estimated half a million machines in Italy needs to be reduced

Calibration advice

Beyond the fulfillment of the obligation, many centers offer a service of advice for the calibration of the machine, optional but absolutely recommended, for companies no specialized in treatments, instrumented with machines of manual adjustment. When there is a specialized professional figure, with machines equipped with appropriate computers and sensors, the calibration is done automatically for each use. But in small businesses, equipped with manual adjustment machines, it is often a mistake to believe that the driven atomization of the liquid and the increase in the amount of air supplied by the fan are synonymous with good treatment, which is not the case. it is not at all true.

The drops do not have to go down a certain diameter for them to reach and reach the target; if a cloud of powdered liquid forms, it can move in relation to the target plants and contaminate the environment or damage adjacent crops. Calibration performed by an expert also helps the operator after the check as it allows him to reset the correct values ​​even during subsequent treatments.

Under current regulations (pending the new NAP) the duration of the checks is 2 years for machines used on behalf of third parties, by companies registered with the Chamber of Commerce, and 3 years for agricultural companies ; the term for farmers was five years, but it has been shortened from 2020.

Finally, we remind you that art. 74 of Legislative Decree no. Law 18/2020, later reconverted into law, temporarily suspended all deadlines relating to plant protection products, from the renewal of licenses to functional controls. The suspension lasts for twelve months with respect to the initial period, and in any case until the 90th day from the date of end of the state of health emergency, currently set for March 31: therefore, it is necessary to act to to the renovations for next June 29, so as not to be discovered in the middle of the work campaign.

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