Drift Control Developments

Drift Control

This spring brings news on two basic yet evolving tools against drift: drift control agents and nozzles. Also on the radar are proposed regulations for limiting possible off-target spray problems. CropLife® got a glimpse into how readers are handling these hot topics.

Scott Firlus, agronomy grain manager at Wisconsin River Coop, Adams, WI, says the company has used InterLock, a vegetable-oil based adjuvant, in all its crop protection applications for the last three years. Some growers complain about the $1 to $1.50 per-acre charge for the agent, but the coop gives them the option of a waiver. “We offer them a liability sign-off that they are responsible for any off-site movement. Only one grower has taken us up on it,” he says.

In the last few years, Gordon Cock­rum, crop protection division manager with The McGregor Co., Colfax, WA, says his team has been looking at some of the older polymer drift/deposition aid technology. The products cost growers about 20¢-30¢ more per acre, but he says they see the value when they realize the off-target problems that might arise.

Steve Ferrara with Carolina Eastern-Vail, Niverville, NY, says the company uses air induction nozzles on most of its sprayers and believes they offer more consistent spray droplet sizes. For maximum drift reduction, applicators use a dual approach. “Anytime we have a phenoxy or Roundup/Touchdown in the tank, we try and make sure we use both the air induction nozzles and drift control agents,” he says.

Cockrum says his company has incorporated air induction nozzles into much of its application work. And the firm’s research agronomists are always on the lookout for new technologies to try. He says one such example is nozzles coming out of England that use “bubble jet technology.”

Dealers understand that a key way to reduce drift is to drive droplet size up, says Cockrum. “But the problem is you also reduce coverage. So if you’re working with coverage of critical materials, that’s a challenge,” he points out.

One challenge somewhat unique to Washington is the state’s ancient pesticide regulations, some dating back 35 to 40 years, when spraying of phenoxies in tree fruits and grapes became a problem. In fact, Cockrum calls the rules the most restrictive he’s seen in the three-state Washington, Oregon, Idaho region McGregor serves. They were written for older technologies and specify wind speed and operating pressures which don’t allow the new technology to work very well, he explains.

“Officials are really reluctant to open the regulations up and start debating them again,” Cockrum says. But he believes state regulators realize they can’t encourage people to get into the application advances — such as air induction nozzles — without reviewing the rules.

Ferrara says he hears about more drift control agents every year and his staff tries to evaluate them, but the task is difficult. He would like an independent source that would look at the products and tell dealers which ones work and which don’t.

Says Mike Lee, Earl’s Flying Service, Steele, MO: “I am for any nozzle testing that would help determine the drift potential of any product. The test would need to be conducted with actual product, as the pesticides sometimes changes droplet size.”

Evaluating products is part of the goal of the EPA‘s Drift Reduction Tech­nology (DRT) Program. In development for the past five years, the Office of Pesticide Programs’ project is now at the point of evaluating standard testing protocols for products. EPA plans to post the test protocol this summer. DRT ratings will ultimately appear on product labels.

Regulations Progress

States are wrestling with assorted pesticide regulations, trying to sort out which issues are addressed at the federal level by EPA — perhaps in product labeling — and which need to be handled by states.

Cockrum says EPA is proposing at extensive buffer zones to prevent drift — up to 1,000 feet from water bearing streams. The proposal stems from a lawsuit filed against EPA and Marine Fisheries, and the goal is to protect salmon and steelhead runs. “But when you start laying out buffers of 1,000 feet, in many fields you’ve consumed two-thirds of it and there’s nothing left to spray,” he notes. While this fish run issue (species populations are actually rising, not falling) is most prominent in the Pacific Northwest, similar regulations are popping up across the U.S.

In fact, buffer zones around waterways are also being discussed on the East Coast, Ferrara says, “but if you put up a buffer zone on some of that river bottom ground, you’re taking away some of the farmers’ most productive acres.”

National and state ag retail associations continue to monitor the status of EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) proposed permit requirements. On March 28 of this year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the agency’s request for an extension to allow more time for operators to obtain General Permits for pesticide discharge into U.S. waters. According to EPA’s NPDES Website, the ruling moves the permit deadline from April 9 to October 31. The goals: Give the agency sufficient time to evaluate how the Endangered Species Act might impact permitting and develop an electronic database to streamline requests for coverage.

The delay also allows time for authorized states to finish developing their permits plus gives permitting authorities time to reach out to stakeholders. General permits would provide coverage for discharges where EPA is the NPDES permitting authority. For discharges in NPDES-authorized states, state system authorities would handle issuing the permits.

In a clarification for retailers, applicants not covered under the General Permit scheme — which would include non-target spray drift sources — may need to gain permission under an individual or alternative general permit.

Firlus hopes permit requirements are held off until a clear official plan and process is in place. “It will be tough to get good information on the process in the middle of spring when things are crazy,” he points out. And some dealers wonder if state budget shortfalls will slow enforcement of any new regulations.

On March 31, the U.S. House of Re­presentatives passed H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011. Among other things, the ag-friendly legislation amends FIFRA and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) to clarify Congress’ intent “on the regulation of the use of pesticides in or near navigable waters.” In short, this bill would eliminate EPA’s authority to issue Clean Water Act permits for pesticides released in waterways. At presstime H.R. 872 was being considered in the Senate.

Making Friends

The dealers we talked with are very committed to building positive relationships with regulators and neighbors, as part of their drift control programs.

Wisconsin River Coop sees lots of aerial application in its territory because of large acreages of vegetable crops, but the company has not had problems with drift damage. Firlus says issues do arise with home gardeners who plant grapes on property lines with a farm field, but don’t communicate with growers what they’re doing.

Carolina Eastern-Vail’s Ferrara says his customers are “farming in the middle of suburbia. We’ve got neighbors literally right next to us, whether it’s tightly packed housing projects — which the East Coast is famous for — or apple orchards,” he describes. So drift concerns are real.

Peter Vail Sr. says his company works very closely with enforcement officers at the New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. For example, because the state no longer handles pesticide training for licensing, Carolina Eastern-Vail secures approval by officials to conduct its own 30-hour training session.

When it comes to working with neighbors with drift complaints, Vail says the company addresses them right away, especially reviewing product labels with the public.

Because of growers’ small fields and close quarters with the homeowners in New York, Vail says his firm tries to avoid aerial application altogether. However, with the exponential growth of fungicide use on corn — business grew 1,000% last year and is projected to do the same again in 2011 — he’s not sure his staff can get all the work done in time without going to aerial application.

Ferrara calls his experienced team of applicators “probably the very best thing we have” in controlling drift. They know the fields and know where sensitive areas are. “They know what’s around them and pay attention as they’re going, what they’re going to see next,” he says.

Firlus believes in the future dealers will need to call on a combination of nozzles, technology, drift reduction tools, and computer tracking to “cover your tail. It seems with drift you are guilty until proven innocent. I hope sound science, not emotion or courts making laws to regulate our business into a small corner.”

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