Productivity is king in the landscape business. That’s why more lawn care operators (LCOs) are investing in motorized spreader/sprayers to apply fertilizer and herbicides to lawns. These machines are available in both stand-on and sit-down models. The evolution of these units has changed the marketplace and helped contractors build better and more productive businesses because they can make more efficient and precise lawn applications.
Of course, many companies still get the job done the “old-fashioned way” with push spreaders and backpack sprayers. This is mostly true for companies that treat small residential lawns. But, when it comes to large properties, walking is no match for riding in terms of cranking out production.
Lloyd VonScheliha, product manager with Exmark, says that about two-thirds of contractors make lawn applications. Within that group, there’s a significant number who only do application work. But VonScheliha says his company learned that many contractors still employ some of the older application methods.
“Those methods work, but they aren’t as productive,” VanScheliha says. “You can’t cover nearly as much area as you would with the newer equipment. It’s a good reason for contractors to consider a change.”
“Things have evolved from the days of pulling a hose and pushing a spreader,” adds Tom Rich, president of LT Rich Products. “The motorization of this type of equipment has made a huge change in the application side of the industry. But despite the benefits, I’m often surprised how many applicators are still pulling the hose and pushing the spreader. It can be hard to make a change, but as labor gets tougher to find, any way you can automate your operation is a benefit. You can make a piece of equipment like this (ride-on or sit-on spreader/sprayer) pay you back pretty quickly.”
The latest advancements
Motorized spreader/sprayers have come a long way the last 10 years in terms of their ride-on or stand-on capabilities and their functionality. Manufacturers continue to improve the units to keep pace with the industry, says Bob Brophy, former director of lawn care products for Turfco Manufacturing.
“These days the manufacturers of sprayers and the manufacturers of chemicals are working closely together,” Brophy says. “That’s allowed us to design better systems, and, as a result, precision has improved dramatically. You can be so precise in your spray that you could drive right alongside a flower bed and not get anything on the flowers.”
This level of precision eliminates the hand trimming, which saves a lot of time. “We had one contractor tell us he hasn’t gotten a hand can out in two years,” Brophy says. “That’s all possible because of cooperation with the chemical companies and the manufacturers of spray nozzles.”
The evolution of sprayer/spreaders has also meant more control resulting in better application efficiency. Exmark recently introduced its new spreader/sprayer. The unit features separate, selectable narrow and wide spray nozzles. These allow an applicator to service virtually any property, claims Brophy.
VonScheliha adds that being able to do anything that needs to be done without getting off of the unit except to open a gate is another huge time-saver.
“Instead of hopping on and hopping off, you never have to leave the machine,” VonScheliha says. “Our steering control is also new on the market for this type of product. It is a front steer, but you have all the controls in one hand. It’s built for efficiency.”
Steering ability is a feature that manufacturers continue to improve. Aaron Jessen, solutions developer with PermaGreen Supreme, points to the company’s patented SmartSteer technology, which reduces the effort required to steer the machine.
“This is especially important when riding the spreader/sprayer on hillsides,” he points out. “More control and less fatigue enables lawn care operators to work comfortably on more lawns and improve productivity. A less-demanding and less-strenuous workplace may also mean keeping valuable employees, including older employees, around much longer.”
“Finding labor is one of the biggest issues landscape businesses face these days,” adds Brophy. “In the past, operators would have to throw in the towel at age 40 because they were too tired to go on. But now older operators can work much longer, maybe until 65, with a ride-on. That’s a big benefit to landscape companies. Some of their older operators might be some of their best. Now they can keep working.”
If you’re in the market for this type of equipment, do your homework. Know what’s out there and know what your specific needs are. Ride-on spreader/sprayers start at about $7,000 and work their way up $14,000 with all of the bells and whistles. Know which add-on features are important to you and which ones you don’t need before you buy a machine.
“All of the machines out there are different, and a good operator is going to do their homework and have some background about all of them,” says VonScheliha. “Look at the full capabilities of the machine and what it can do for you, not just the price. And, you also have to factor in comfort with the machine. If you’re not purchasing it for yourself, bring the operator along. They might have a different perspective, and they’re going to be the one on it every day.”
Jessen says that LCOs who service both commercial and residential properties should investigate units that offer the widest variety of features, including those that provide a stable and safe working platform for making applications on varied terrain. “Look for convenient operating controls that help you keep your hands on the machine, and features that minimize application errors,” he adds.
Jessen reminds LCOs to analyze their customer bases, and decide where they want their businesses to go before making big purchases like ride-on machines. “Invest in the spreader/sprayer that you can see yourself riding every day on every lawn. Invest in the machine you can build your business and your dreams upon,” he adds.
More time = more sales
Brophy says the contractor that bought his first unit for his smaller operation found out after his first round of applications he had so much extra time he was able sell 100 more jobs.
“For a smaller operation that has been doing it a certain way for so many years, making a switch to new technology isn’t always easy,” Brophy admits. “But you have to look at the big picture. The big picture includes a pretty significant economic impact as well.”
Brophy says the ride-on sprayer/spreaders can help an LCO permanently replace two $75,000 trucks and significantly reduce labor. “In a market where we can’t get enough labor, that’s huge,” he emphasizes. “You can basically cut labor needs in half. Instead of having to hire 40 guys, you can cut back to 20. That’s big in this industry – particularly for a smaller operation.”
And the improved precision of the chemical application cannot be ignored as well. With a more precise application, the amount of waste has really decreased, says Rich. “By taking out the guesswork, applications are getting much more precise, and that means less product is wasted,” he explains. “Besides saving money, that’s better for the environment.”
“The environmental impact is far less, and that’s important in this day and age,” adds Brophy. “There’s no more guesstimation. Now we’re putting down a precise amount of product, which makes us more environmentally friendly and also saves money. This machine can save you one bag of fertilizer per day. That’s $30 that falls straight to the bottom line.”
As application technology advances, the future holds even more opportunity for landscape businesses that are willing to keep up. “Keeping up with the latest technology and also staying on top of what our customers really want is what drives the future,” says VonScheliha.
COVER PHOTO: EXMARK