Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges tells of a sports shop in Glasgow that sells thousands of baseball bats every year but no baseballs.

“The Easterhouse [a Glasgow suburb] Red Sox have not had a game in a while,” he quips.

Here in Ireland, you could use a hurl (or hurley if you’re from Munster) as a weapon, so perhaps baseball bats don’t sell as well. However, we do have a similar bewildering anomaly to the baseball bat-baseball ratio conundrum.

This week, I sought the latest numbers around sprayer testing from the Department of Agriculture. It turns out that there are only 2,360 sprayers currently “in test” on our 130,000 farms. That is a pathetically low figure.

To put it in context, there are 7,387 tillage farms in the country, according to Teagasc.

I would reckon there is definitely an average of at least one sprayer on each of those farms. Some would have two sprayers - one trailed, one mounted - and many farms would have a separate sprayer for brassica crops like beet and cabbage.

Of course, any sprayer bought in 2021 or 2022 wouldn’t yet need a test, so that cohort can be added to the 2,360, but I am not convinced there are 5,000 new sprayers in tillage farmyards.

To put it another way, there are only about 15 tested sprayers for every sprayer tester (try saying that after a few pints).

Considering the test is valid for three years, that’s one sprayer tested by each tester every two months. These figures aren’t adding up at all. Kevin Bridges would have questions.

I would reckon that a significant number of the 150 approved sprayer testers aren’t testing any more.

I phoned some random numbers from the list during the week, and only got a small hit. One number was no longer in use.

Ironically, with the test period having been reduced from five to three years, and with it explicit now that sprayers will be checked during cross-compliance inspections, it seems that testers will be needed as farmers belatedly catch up with the regulations.

The Department of Agriculture also confirmed to me that 36,701 people are qualified as professional users (PUs).

The vast majority of these are farmers. This means there are tens of thousands of farmers who have taken the time to train and qualify as being competent to handle pesticides who don’t possess a tested sprayer. Perhaps they are all using knapsacks, but I doubt it.

Personal interest

I’ll admit it, my interest in the number of sprayers tested was in part triggered by a communication I received from the Department in December.

It came by email and was a reminder that my own sprayer was last tested in 2017 and now required a retest.

I was already aware of this, and had arranged to have my sprayer tested before I would need it in 2023, but the reminder was no harm at all.

The email provided a link to the list of approved sprayer testers, and reminded me that “under SMR 8 conditionality 2023 - Sustainable use of pesticides, DAFM inspectors will check whether horizontal boom sprayers >3m width and bush/orchard blast sprayers have been tested in line with regulatory requirements”.

It stated that the inspectors will assess the date of testing and test certificate number to seek proof to confirm whether the sprayer is less than three years old.

One sprayer tester I talked to got some stickers recently with numbers over 12,000. This suggests that around that number of sprayers have been tested at this point.

However, any sprayer tested in 2017, 2018 or 2019 needed a retest in 2022, and sprayers tested during 2020 will fall due for retest this year, which explains the anomaly between the number of sprayers tested since the regime began and the number of sprayers currently in test.


There is a significant problem around enforcement in the middle of all this. The correspondence from the Department reminding me my sprayer as due a retest said the following: “If your sprayer is compliant, sold, or if no longer in use no further action is required.”

The problem is around the third option. If a Department inspector arrives into a yard and a sprayer is sitting there, more than three years old and without an in-test sticker, all the farmer has to say is that it is no longer in use. It’s way too grey an area to allow for any kind of enforcement.

Does it matter? I think it does. At the moment, the microscope is firmly being directed on the impact of pesticide use.

Research showing the impact of pesticides on insects and bees is mounting.

It behoves all of us who use pesticides to do so in the most sustainable and responsible manner possible.

That surely includes having a sprayer operating at its optimum.

If farmers want to keep glyphosate and MCPA and other threatened herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, we have to spray appropriately with an appropriate sprayer.

Apart from that, the sheer cost of plant protection products means that it is in a farmer’s economic interests to use them efficiently.

About €250/ha (€100/acre) of pesticides are applied on tillage farms every year. Sprayer testing ensures that the sprayer’s pressure is properly regulated, that the spray pattern is even and consistent, and that the chemical employed is being applied in the way intended.

Is there anything that can be done? I think so.

I would suggest that if a sprayer is on a farm without a test certificate, it is required that it be decommissioned from easy use.

What would this entail? How about all nozzles removed, all boom pipes removed, and the inflow and outflow pipes from the pump disconnected and stored away from the sprayer.

This would mean a farmer would not be able to easily use such a sprayer; there would be quite a bit of assembly involved.

It would also provide some clarity for Department inspectors.

A sprayer would either be tested, decommissioned, or in breach of cross-compliance.

Perhaps some farmers will think I’m a traitor for suggesting ways that farmers can be subjected to financial penalty.

I would argue that any farmer who is deliberately breaching the rules around safe and responsible use of pesticides is betraying all of us who are dependent on their continued availability.