When to Hire a Custom Applicator vs. Buy Spraying Equipment

FBN Network

Feb 13, 2024

Amid farmers’ efforts to protect against pests in order to maximize yield, they are faced with a choice: hire a custom applicator or purchase their own spraying equipment.

The decision to hire a custom applicator or buy spraying equipment depends on various factors such as farm size, spraying frequency, available resources, and personal preferences. It's important to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of each to help make an informed decision that aligns with your specific operational needs and goals.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • Pros vs. Cons of Hiring a Custom Applicator

  • How Much Does a Custom Applicator Cost?

  • How FBN® Helps Farmers Looking for a Custom Applicator

  • Pros vs. Cons of Owning Spraying Equipment

  • How Much Does Spraying Equipment Cost?

  • How FBN Helps Farmers Who Own Their Own Sprayer

What Is a Custom Applicator? 

A custom applicator, sometimes referred to as a commercial applicator, is a licensed professional hired by a farmer to mix and apply ag chem, including fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, across their fields. Using their own equipment, the custom applicator travels from farm to farm spraying chem that is either purchased separately by the farmer or sold by the applicator as part of the custom application agreement. 

Hiring a Custom Applicator: Pros vs. Cons

A few common advantages and disadvantages of hiring a custom applicator are outlined below. 

Pros of Hiring a Custom Applicator

  • Cost savings: Hiring a custom applicator can be cost-effective for farmers with smaller operations or those who don't require frequent spraying. With this approach, farmers can avoid the upfront costs of purchasing equipment and the ongoing expenses of maintenance and repairs.

  • Expertise and experience: Custom applicators are professionals who specialize in spraying and have the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to ensure accurate and effective application. 

  • Time-saving: By hiring a custom applicator, farmers can save time and focus on other farm management tasks, such as harvesting or marketing their crops.

  • Reduced liability: When hiring a custom applicator, the liability for accidents or other issues during spraying operations typically falls on the applicator, reducing the farmer's potential liability.

Cons of Hiring a Custom Applicator

  • Limited scheduling flexibility: Relying on a custom applicator means you have to work around their availability and schedule, which may not always align with your specific needs or time-sensitive applications.

  • Less control over application timing: Depending on the workload of the custom applicator, you may have less control over the timing of your spraying operations, which can be crucial for optimal pest or disease control.

  • Communication and trust: Effective communication and trust are essential when working with a custom applicator. Farmers need to clearly communicate their specific needs and ensure that the applicator understands and follows their instructions.

  • Cost variability: The cost of hiring a custom applicator can vary depending on factors such as the size of the field, the type of crop, and the distance to be traveled. This variability can make budgeting and cost forecasting more challenging.

How Much Does a Custom Applicator Cost? 

The cost of hiring a custom applicator in the United States can vary depending on several factors, including the region, the size of the field, the type of crop, the distance to be traveled, and the specific services required. Taking that into consideration, here are some general estimates to give you an idea of the average costs involved.

For aerial application (previously referred to as crop dusting), the average cost can range from $7 to $20 per acre, according to a range of sources, including Farm Progress. For ground application, the average cost can range from $8 to $15 per acre, according to 2023 research from Purdue University

It's important to note that these are rough estimates, and the actual cost can vary significantly depending on the factors mentioned earlier. Additionally, some custom applicators may charge a minimum fee or have additional charges for services such as tank mixing, equipment setup, or travel expenses. The cost of application does not include the cost of the chem itself.

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Owning Spraying Equipment: Pros vs. Cons

Cutting-edge spraying equipment can often help American farmers scale their ag operations and become more profitable. With the North American agricultural sprayers market expected to grow by about 2 billion dollars over the next eight years, there is a wide range of high-precision options to choose from, including handheld, drone sprayers, and GPS sprayers. Listed below are some common advantages and disadvantages of purchasing and owning your own spraying equipment. 

Pros of Owning Spraying Equipment

  • Cost savings: Owning your own spraying equipment can be cost-effective in the long run, especially if you have a large farm or frequently need to spray your crops. You can save on custom application fees and have more control over your spraying schedule.

  • Convenience and flexibility: Having your own equipment allows you to spray your fields whenever it's most convenient for you, without relying on the availability of a custom applicator. This can be particularly beneficial during critical application windows.

  • Timely application: With your own equipment, you can respond quickly to changing weather conditions or pest and disease outbreaks, ensuring timely application of pesticides or other necessary treatments.

  • Quality control: By owning your own equipment, you have direct control over the calibration, maintenance, and operation of the sprayer, which can help ensure accurate and effective application.

Cons of Owning Spraying Equipment

  • Initial investment: Purchasing spraying equipment can be a significant upfront cost, including the cost of the sprayer, nozzles, tanks, and other necessary accessories. This may require a substantial financial investment.

  • Maintenance and repairs: Owning spraying equipment means taking on the responsibility of regular maintenance, repairs, and equipment upgrades. This can add to your workload and require additional time and resources.

  • Expertise and training: Operating spraying equipment requires knowledge and expertise to ensure proper application techniques, calibration, and safety. Farmers may need to invest time and resources in training themselves or their employees.

  • Storage and transportation: Spraying equipment requires adequate storage space when not in use, and transportation to and from the fields. This can be a challenge for farmers with limited storage facilities or those farming on multiple locations.

How Much Does Spraying Equipment Cost? 

The cost of a sprayer can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of sprayer, its size, features, brand, and whether it is new or used. With that in mind, here is a general range of prices to give you an idea of the average cost of sprayers in the United States.

For ATV or tow-behind sprayers, prices can range from $200 to $2,000 or more, depending on the capacity and features.

For self-propelled sprayers or high-capacity tractor-mounted sprayers used in larger-scale commercial farming operations, prices can range from $30,000 to $600,000 or more, depending on the size, features, brand, and whether it is purchased used or new.

It's important to note that these are rough estimates, and the actual cost of a sprayer can vary significantly based on the factors mentioned earlier. Additionally, prices can fluctuate over time due to factors such as market demand, technological advancements, and inflation.

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Related Resources

© 2014 - 2024 Farmer's Business Network, Inc. All rights Reserved. The sprout logo, “Farmers Business Network”, “FBN”, “FBN Direct” are trademarks or registered trademarks of Farmer's Business Network, Inc. This content was written by Norm℠, reviewed and edited by Stephanie Nikolopoulos and Mikaela Tierney.

This content was generated with the assistance of Norm℠, FBN’s artificial intelligence (AI) Ag Advisor, based on a dataset of information containing general industry best practices and research. The AI model did not use specific external sources to generate this content. Our process involves using AI to aid human subject matter experts with the initial drafting and/or refinement of content. 

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ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS. It is a violation of federal and state law to use any pesticide product other than in accordance with its label. The distribution, sale and use of an unregistered pesticide is a violation of federal and/or state law and is strictly prohibited. We do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided on this page or which is provided by us in any form. It is your responsibility to confirm prior to purchase and use that a product is labeled for your specific purposes, including, but not limited to, your target crop or pest and its compatibility with other products in a tank mix and that the usage of a product is otherwise consistent with federal, state and local laws.  We reserve the right to restrict sales on a geographic basis in our sole discretion. You must have a valid applicator license to use restricted use pesticides.  Please consult your state department of agriculture for complete rules and regulations on the use of restricted use pesticides, as some products require specific record-keeping requirements.

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FBN Network

Feb 13, 2024

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