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Considering GPS Spraying at Your Facility

Wednesday, May 20, 2015  
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Written by Nick Janovich 

Solenoids control each nozzle individually. This gives the computer the ability to turn nozzles on and off independent of each other. The savings can be substantial.
If you are a superintendent there is a good chance that you are always searching for the next big thing that will make your job easier. Turf managers are constantly being asked to provide better conditions with fewer resources. Any product, gadget, or widget that can decrease expenses or increase efficiency is certainly welcome in this industry. Over the past few months you have likely heard of GPS-guided sprayers. If you attended February's Golf Industry Show in San Antonio you probably noticed that all three big manufacturers were showing off their GPS-guided sprayers. Some were in production while others were not, but everyone had some system to show off. For those that have traditional sprayers not needing replaced, there are companies that will convert your rig to utilize GPS technology. Regardless of how you implement GPS, it is clear the spraying industry is moving that direction.

GPS spraying is nothing new to the agriculture industry. Like most technology, it has just taken some time to transition from agriculture to golf. Older GPS sprayers were based on the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS.) The issues with WAAS on a golf course was limited accuracy and lack of repeatability. Without getting too technical, this meant that golf spray rigs would need to drive around the boundary of a spray area to create a map for it. These maps would then need to be used quickly before the Earth shifted too much. Failure to map boundaries the same day as you sprayed resulted in maps that could shift a few feet. In a farm field of several hundred acres this is not of concern. On putting greens, however, a few feet is not acceptable.

Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS is the technology now being used for most golf systems. It is much more accurate due to the use of a close-range antenna that provides a known reference point. The computers use this antenna to calculate and correct any movement of spray boundaries due to the Earth's shifting. This means that once your boundaries are established they do not need to ever be mapped again. It also means that the spray boundaries are accurate to within one inch of where they were initially mapped. RTK systems do require a RTK antenna within about 30 miles of the golf course. A fee may be required to access the antenna depending on who owns it.

GPS allows the Course Superintendent to see exactly where every drop of product was applied. The system also tells if the rate was too high or too low.
You are likely quickly realizing that there are many benefits to GPS spraying. When coupled with individual nozzle control the savings of chemical and fertilizer can be substantial. This is great from an environmental standpoint but huge from a financial standpoint. A savings of 15% is a very realistic number of what the average course stands to save. It is also a good number to start "crunching” with. This savings comes from the pinpoint accuracy of each nozzle. If the nozzle is not in a spray zone it will shut off. Similarly, if it is overlapping into an already sprayed area that specific nozzle will also shut down.

Turning off nozzles a few feet early means significant savings. Courses are reporting between 10% and 25% savings. Courses that have straight edge fairways, greens with few surrounding features, and square tees will see less savings than a course with the opposite traits. Essentially the more difficult that it is to spray your property the more that the computer guidance will help reduce your area sprayed.

Another benefit is having the ability to view as-applied maps. For example, you can easily see if all of the rough was actually sprayed with insecticide. Over are the days of trusting your spray technician only to be hit with grub damage in the fall! Further, multiple spray zones can be created. Most superintendents would agree that collars could always use a little extra attention. With GPS you can make the collar a spray zone and apply extra fertilizer/wetting agent to just the collar. Any nozzle that would spray the rough or the green would not turn on. These are simple examples; the possibilities are endless.

The first question is always about cost. Of course it varies from rig-to-rig and manufacturer-to-manufacturer but a very general number is an extra $30,000 to add an RTK GPS system with individual nozzle control. This tends to hold true if you upgrade an existing sprayer or add it as a factory feature on a new unit. At a club that sprays $100,000 worth of product the savings could easily be $10,000-$25,000 in the first year alone. Again, savings is directly related to the features on your specific golf course.

GPS-guided sprayers can benefit nearly any golf course that regularly sprays product. The financial gains, environmental benefits, and labor savings are unmatched by any other piece of equipment to recently hit the market. Even if you are not shopping for a new sprayer, converting your existing sprayer nearly always makes sense too. If there is a tool that legitimately helps superintendents "do more with less,” GPS is it!

Nick Janovich is a Golf Course Superintendent at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling WV. He holds a BS in Turfgrass Science from The Ohio State University and an MBA from Wheeling Jesuit University. He serves as a Trustee for OTF. Follow him on Twitter @njanovich for all things turf.

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