Amenity Sprayer Operator of the Year - Award winning application

Mark Sandersonin Technical


Paul Gater's route into turf management started as a junior member at Auchterarder Golf Club in Perthshire, Scotland. "The club gave me an opportunity to work on the course for a short time, which I enjoyed, and it took off from there," he reported.

Buffer zones around water features help to protect natrural resources

Having attended Elwood College in Cupar, Fife, he started at Caldy Golf Club, on the Wirral peninsular near Liverpool, in 1994. Now, as First Assistant to course manager, Carl Crocher, as well as carrying out all greenkeeping duties, Paul's main responsibilities involve applying chemicals and fertilisers, including ensuring accurate stocks and records are kept.

For spraying he holds a PA 1/2 & 6, along with his National Certificate in greenkeeping; NVQ 3 and 4; chainsaw certificate; First Aid level 3; excavator licence and welding certification.

The club's primary sprayer is a Team sprayer purpose built for turf application, with a 600 litre capacity tank. He also has a walk over EvenSprey Pro 50 litre tank, initially brought for a newly constructed greens project, but adding flexibility for winter applications.

"In the summer months, I can be out spraying weekly," he reported. "We apply Primo Maxx to greens once every two weeks, and monthly to the tees and surrounds. We also use compost teas monthly on the greens, tees and surrounds. In the winter months, spraying depends on the weather and what needs doing."

The club has developed a robust Integrated Turf Management programme to ensure applications are better targeted and only used where justified to maintain turf quality.

With fungicide treatments, for example, Paul says the strategy is to apply as soon as disease is seen to control any outbreak. "Get the timing wrong and it can have devastating effects that can last through to the spring," he added.

Caldy's Team sprayer has been purpose designed for turf application

For weed control, Paul highlighted they now focus treatments on holes alongside the cliff tops first, as the wind tends to blow seeds across the course and this approach reduces potential weed spread. This action has reduced the overall area treated each year, and the amount of herbicide used.

"Having the odd weed here and there is okay, if it's not interfering with play. We tend to leave it until we reach a threshold, before spraying a targeted area."

Other treatments regularly used include an intensive wetting agent programme to help dry out the playing surface, along with soluble iron sprayed on the fairways for green up and helping to keep turf healthy through the cooler months.

One new treatment used in the past year has been Acelepryn to target high levels of leatherjacket activity on the greens. With the club's ITM approach, it was used in conjunction with an aeration and overseeding programme and compost tee to further encourage recovery and plant health.

"It really highlighted the importance of reading the label and the application instructions, including water volume and nozzle choice, to get the best out of the product," he pointed out.

"Nozzle selection is a key part of accurate application, to deliver the appropriate water volume at the required speed to hit the intend target.

"I tend to use water volume of 300 l/ha for foliar products, such as Primo Maxx and selection of fungicides. But to penetrate through the sward, with wetting agents, compost tees or Acelepryn, I use 600 l/ha, applied with air induction nozzles where coarser droplets get through to the soil more effectively."

"When I use a Syngenta product, I use the GreenCast Turf App, which helps me with choosing the right nozzle for optimum application."

A kit box on the sprayer keeps important items clean / A 50 litre walk behind sprayer proved very useful for applications on greens

Paul advocates nozzles are checked regularly for output and spray pattern, and changed when needed. "We tend to keep a spare set of nozzles accessible for when required." An App on his mobile phone is used to check forward speed and help with calibration.

On a fairly exposed site, drift reducing nozzles can give a big advantage for better targeting sprays, compared to conventional flat fans. To further reduce drift risk, Paul says that they have a weather station to check wind speed, along with various forecasts and apps. Furthermore, he uses a hand-held wind speed monitor to check the actual levels before he sprays.

"An ideal wind speed is usually between two to nine miles per hour - which is a light breeze. If it is more than 15mph, I won't spray," he advises. "But I'm also conscious that still conditions with no air movement can cause problems, if the spray just hangs over treated areas and any unexpected gusts may take it off target."

He pointed out still conditions can be a particular issue first thing in the morning or late evening, when temperature inversion occurs, which is a challenge since it's often an opportune time without players on the course.

Recording the way treatments were applied and the results helps develop optimum results, here with selective herbicide / Products are kept in a secure chemical safe at Caldy Golf Club with all part cans clearly labelled / Used PPE and other items for safe disposal are kept seperate

Drift mitigation measures Paul advocates to help keep sprays on target include:

• Boom height - a stable 50 cm above the target

• Nozzle selection - utilise low drift options

• Operating pressure - operate at 2 - 3 bar maximum

• Vehicle speed - slower is better for drift reduction

• Check wind conditions - be aware of gusty winds

• Correct sprayer set up

To further protect off-target areas around the course, they have designated buffer zones, which at Caldy are long strips of uncut grass which form a boundary. One of these sensitive areas are the bee hives they have on site. Caldy's washdown area for machines integrates a reed bed system to ensure no contamination reaches the environment.

He has also fitted an in-line water meter at the filling station, so he knows precisely how much is in the sprayer for the area to be treated and avoids waste being left for disposal.

With a focus on safety and minimising risk of point source contamination, Paul has an approved waste contractor route for disposal of chemical, washed out packaging and used PPE. All PPE is always kept in a clean zone. Everyone who is assigned to spraying has his or hers own dedicated PPE, which they are responsible for looking after.

"From 2016, new legislation came into effect that all mounted and pedestrian sprayers must comply with national testing; so we always make sure the sprayer has an MOT through NSTS services every year. It ensures the sprayer is working correctly and also helps to minimise breakdowns. Plus, for the insurance policy, it's important to have," he commented.

Paul is also sure to let people know what he's doing and where. Signs go out around the clubhouse and first tee before any spraying takes place, as well as on the club's website. "Keeping everyone safe is key," he added.

Sharing spraying Top Tips

Syngenta Technical Manager and application specialist, Glenn Kirby, highlighted the skills and experience of sprayer operators is paramount in achieving the full potential from all applications and assuring future sustainable use.

"Paul has shown he has outstanding skills and works to very high standards to achieve the best possible results. He has proved a successful winner by showing that best practice can deliver efficient and, above all, safe amenity spraying."

"All of the Awards entrants have demonstrated the essential techniques for safe and responsible spray application. Sharing their ideas and advice can help all operators to become more effective."

Glenn's Top Tips for accurate application and a guide for future Awards entrants include:

• Know your target and where you want the spray to end up - on the leaf; the crown or in the soil?

• Select appropriate nozzles, pressure, water volume and speed to give the best chance of hitting the target.

• Where you have to make a conscious compromise with tank mixes, focus on the priority part of the application.

• Understand the way different products work, along with the physiology of the pathogen/weed and the turf plant - to optimise application timing.

• Check over the sprayer every time. Look at pipes and joints for leaks at pressure; check tyre pressures; assess spray pattern from each nozzle; balance booms for constant pressure.

• Maintain accurate records, of what you applied, where, when and how - and the result. Refer back to develop your own best practices.

• Have the sprayer regularly tested to NSTS regs.

A series of Glenn's Art of Application videos on GreenCast offers further practical ideas and advice to improve spraying accuracy.

Amenity Forum Awards

The Amenity Sprayer Operator of the Year recognises and rewards top sprayer operators across the amenity industry. It aims to further improve standards, by identifying the best practice of individuals to enhance results.

Organised by the Amenity Forum, the Awards are sponsored by ICL and Syngenta, and supported by BASIS. Two categories cover Sports Turf application and Landscape and Industrial.

Previous overall winners have undertaken study tours to the US and Europe, along with BASIS training and further education offers. All entrants to this year's Awards also have the chance for a place on the Syngenta Application Academy 2021.