An agricultural tool as small as a thumb can mean the difference between a 25 to 50 percent increase or decline in crop yields, according to an expert from Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Choosing the right type of sprayer nozzle can make a huge difference in how effective pesticides are during a growing season and whether growers have to re-spray their fields or in some cases, replant, said Erdal Ozkan, an agricultural engineering professor and spray technology expert with Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).

OSU Extension and OARDC are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of the college.

Not only do farmers have to have a field clear of weeds and pests before they plant, they have to keep that field free of pests and weeds throughout the growing season. With the rising cost of pesticides and fertilizers, growers who also want to save money and spray chemicals as efficiently as possible need to make sure they choose the correct spray nozzles for their fields, weather conditions and type of chemicals they apply, Ozkan said.

"Farming is a tough business, with a very narrow margin between profit and loss," he said. "So anything we can do to widen that margin is a good thing."

The costs are significant. Farmers spend approximately $4.1 billion on pesticides annually, according to published reports. Large self-propelled sprayers can cost more than $250,000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Growers usually choose pesticides based on their effectiveness, not how much they cost," Ozkan said. "So one way to find savings in crop production is how we apply pesticides, and choosing the right nozzle is a part of that process.