Getting Drift …The Right Way

The issue of spray drift is not going away any time soon. It is certain to remain a hot button management and policy issue for the foreseeable future.

When carried out under appropriate conditions and management practices, spray application is a safe, economical, and effective tool for growers. Nonetheless, drift happens. Although infrequent, drift can result in damage to off-target crops, environmental exposure to water, and a lower than intended application rate, reducing pesticide effectiveness. Drift can also involve neighboring properties, leading to emotionally charged concern and debate.

Further, because no clear EPA risk management policy or guidance exists, enactment of strict regulations on spray drift is a top priority of activist groups. As a result, a serious potential for negative economic impacts on agriculture exists from unrealistic and unwarranted restrictions or bans on pesticide use. Consequently, it is crucial that we be proactive in addressing the drift-related challenges facing agriculture.

The absence of effective EPA guidance has resulted in a multitude of differing state regulations on drift. Some state regulators and activist groups are taking advantage of this “policy void” to pressure EPA to adopt enforceable label language that prohibits any pesticide drift (zero drift). Because zero drift is unachievable, this is tantamount to a ban.

Neither Congress nor EPA ever intended to subject the application of pesticide products to the Clean Water Act’s (CWA)/National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements. All sources of environmental exposure including water and air from either direct application, runoff, or spray drift of pesticides have been regulated by EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Under FIFRA, Congress empowered EPA to set nationwide safety standards for agricultural pesticide applications that protect both the environment and public health. These comprehensive federal requirements cover all U.S. pesticide applications.

Managing Drift

Despite the outcry from environmentalists, millions of applications of our products are used safely every year, with only a handful of complaints ever recorded. Still, the pressure to regulate is substantial, and the unachievable “zero drift” policy was proposed by EPA in a 2001 Public Record notice in the Congressional Record. While never finalized, it is still being written into pesticide labels. Activists have also won in court their claim that pesticide applications on, over, or near water require an NPDES permit under the CWA. It’s obvious to see that the activist goal is to stop pesticide application. Period.

CropLife America continues to work with its commodity and grower group allies to replace the zero drift regulatory approach. We believe that label language should state that spray drift should cause no adverse affects. This statement acknowledges that there is going to be drift with each application and establishes a reasonable enforcement level.

Custom applicators have a huge role in helping achieve reasonable drift policy by making sure they work to minimize drift. The reality is that it only takes one highly-publicized incident to result in onerous and unnecessary regulations on our industry. Make sure your applicators select the proper nozzles, avoid spraying in excessive winds, and consider the use of drift retardants. Perhaps the most important thing is to educate your community about your application business. The neighbors around the field need to understand the safeguards built in to ensure products can be applied safely and that there is someone available to answer their questions.

Dealing with drift management and community outreach is an important component of our industry’s public policy efforts. With support from you, we can work to achieve a new and better EPA policy approach to drift.

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