Know Your Target

Drift Control

As seed companies bring new and/or combined resistance traits into the market to help growers return higher yields, concerns about nontarget spray drift will only heighten for ground and aerial applicators, who will need to exercise increased caution before pulling the trigger. Today’s smaller profit margins allow little room for error, and the wrong herbicide inadvertently settling on a neighboring crop could be costly to both growers and dealerships.

In recent history, any spray drift talk tended to center on avoiding getting a glyphosate herbicide on non-glyphosate-resistant crops. If anything, the opposite will be more of a concern this season and going forward, says Bill Johnson, Purdue University Extension weed specialist.

The new LibertyLink soybeans are a prime example and just a taste of what’s to come, according to Johnson. “It used to be so simple,” he says. “You sprayed Liberty on LibertyLink crops, and now we’ve got Ignite that’s going on LibertyLink crops. There’s so many glyphosate formulations out there and all this new seed technology coming into the market,” some of which will not tolerate glyphosate, including LibertyLink and conventional crops. Conventional soybean acres are expected to increase for the 2009 growing season.

“I think it’s going to be a lot more confusing for applicators, and will be a potential spray drift issue,” he says. “I can see the mistake being made in that the LibertyLink beans gets sprayed with Roundup, and the Roundup Ready beans get sprayed with Ignite — I can see that happening,” he says. “I think there’s enough glyphosate products out there, and we do have corn hybrids that are stacked with both the LibertyLink and the Roundup Ready gene, so I can see someone maybe not remembering the details that we don’t have soybean varieties that are stacked with both. I think that could be a very real concern.”

Johnson also notes there will only be around 1 million acres of LibertyLink seed available to growers this season, which will help reduce the possibility of drift incidents with adjacent glyphosate-resistant crops. “Hopefully it’s not a widespread problem,” he says. “Really it’s more of a concern if Ignite gets on crops that are not tolerant to Ignite, rather than vice versa, which is getting glyphosate on LibertyLink or conventional beans.”

It’s absolutely critical that custom applicators — and growers doing their own applications — be very aware of exactly what crop is in not only the field they’ll be spraying, but also nearby fields, says Jim Gray, executive director of the Industry Task Force II on 2,4-D Research Data. Every corn field looks like any other corn field, and the same holds true of soybeans. “That means taking time to talk to the grower, and ask what’s in the field you’ll be spraying, and the fields surrounding it,” Gray says.

“To me, that’s not nearly as big of a potential problem as when, for instance, the dicamba- and 2,4-D-resistant crops come into the market three, four years down the road,” Johnson adds. These will present higher risk because nearby plants like tomatoes, roses, and trees are “very hypersensitive to 2,4-D and dicamba.” Both of these herbicides are proven effective and safe when applied properly to tolerant crops.

NPDES Nightmare

Crop protection application spray drift is not only a concern in the cabs and cockpits, but also in the courtrooms and collaborative test sites. What’s currently happening off the field will certainly affect future field work.

For example, there’s the recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision defining crop protection products as point source pollutants, overriding EPA’s November 2007 determination that products used in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) were exempt from Clean Water Act requirements. The original litigants — American Forest and Paper Association, CropLife America, National Cotton Council, and American Farm Bureau Federation — are appealing the Court of Appeals’ decision, while 22 other ag organizations have filed a petition for a rehearing.

The Court of Appeals ruling would require applicators and growers to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit every time they need to apply crop protection products near water. “It’s probably the single biggest issue facing agriculture today,” says Andrew Moore, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA). “There’s still a lot of legal determinations and decisions that need to be made.”

How difficult would the NPDES ruling — if it stays in place — make an applicator’s job?

“Remarkably difficult,” states an adamant Moore, whose comments can apply to ground rig applicators, too. “First of all, it could potentially eliminate a farmer’s ability to promptly address a pest infestation, whether that be an insect or a fungus or a weed or a rodent. If you now have to deal with the bureaucracy to get a permit to put on a pesticide, you could be tied up for sometimes days and then it’s going to do away with modern, conventional agricultural practices.”

Time isn’t the only concern; the additional permit fees also are a concern for retailers’ and aerial applicators’ bottom lines.

“We estimated that we probably treat close to 1.6 million fields a year for our industry,” Moore says. “So if the charge for an NPDES permit is $250, it’s an additional cost for our industry of $400 million dollars. And we only provide 25% of all the commercial pesticide applications in agriculture.”

The ruling will affect crop protection products and biological agents, Moore notes, plus public health spraying for mosquito abatement, golf course, road salting in winter, and more.

“The implications of this are huge,” says Moore.

Rating Reduction Ability

Taking positive steps for the industry, the Drift Reduction Technology (DRT) Project is currently verifying its application spray nozzle testing protocols in both USDA’s high speed wind tunnel at Texas A&M University and the low speed wind tunnel at EPA‘s Research Triangle Park, NC, facility. According to Jay Ellenberger of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and head of the DRT Project, once revisions are completed, “any nozzle manufacturer or crop protection registrant worldwide can submit their application technology to be tested.”

Nozzle testing is expected to begin in 2010. Once tested, the product will be given a rating, similar to a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. This rating can be used in the company’s promotional materials, and will be posted on EPA’s Web site also. “We’re planning on a star system,” Ellenberger says. “One star will indicate up to 25% less spray drift, two is up to 50% less, three will be up to 75% less, and four more than 75% reduction.”

The group is working to harmonize the program with those in other countries. Germany and the United Kingdom currently have DRT programs.

“As part of their product stewardship, crop protection registrants can propose label language of which nozzles should be, must be, can be used to apply their product,” explains Ellenberger. “EPA considers a label with that claim to be a risk reduction.”

Ellenberger points out that the independent program is voluntary; equipment manufacturers are not required to submit products for testing, which will be done by independent scientists using scientifically sound methods. “The objectivity is built in,” he adds.

Retailers and growers can visit EPA’s Web site or check the crop protection product label itself when choosing or purchasing nozzles to use with the specific products they have in stock.

Larger equipment — such as shielded sprayers and electrostatic sprayer systems — will eventually be added to the DRT testing program.

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