Get the Drift

April 29, 2011 11:10 PM

New Regulations Raise the Stakes

Reducing pesticide drift is a lot like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The number of variables that must be considered can seem overwhelming.

Something as basic as the choice of product can affect drift potential. "One neat thing with Roundup Ready crops is that glyphosate uses bigger spray droplets," says Greg Kruger, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center. "The bigger the droplets, the less prone they are to drift. By contrast, most of our contact herbicides use smaller droplets, which are more likely to drift."

Most growers are well aware of the importance of drift management and the problems that drift can cause.

"Obviously, you lose any activity the application may have on the intended target," Kruger notes. "You also don’t get the control you had planned to get, which reduces yields or requires additional applications.

"From an environmental standpoint, drift can harm beneficial insects and have unintended consequences, such as affecting neighboring areas," he adds.

Applicators can face hefty liability issues. "There was a recent court case in California where an applicator had a drift issue next to an organic farm," Kruger says. "A million-dollar lawsuit was filed, and the court ruled he was liable even though it was applied
according to the label."

Higher standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is raising the stakes even higher with a new Drift Reduction Technology policy that it expects to issue this year. The policy will require all new and reregistered products to carry label wording aimed at reducing drift.

"The EPA started working on this project three or four years ago," Kruger says. "They received so many public comments that they had to delay issuing the regulations. We still aren’t sure what they will look like, but they will include recommended droplet sizes, maximum wind speeds and setbacks where the field can’t be sprayed near susceptible plants."

The potential impact of the new regulations has the industry concerned. CropLife America has gone on record that it "supports innovative technologies that promote spray drift reduction and advocates for scientific research on spray drift effects; but opposes ‘zero-drift’ policies that have already been acknowledged by EPA to set an impossible standard."

Kruger is leading an ambitious project that may help develop those innovative technologies. His research center is building the first wind tunnels in the nation that will be used for commercial testing of crop protection products for drift potential at controlled wind speeds. Researchers will evaluate different nozzle types, application pressures and spray solutions at various wind speeds.

Meanwhile, the challenge is to maintain crop yields while reducing the possibility of drift. Applicators can do their part by following a few commonsense guidelines:

  • Always read the product label carefully before application.
  • Keep an eye on the current weather and short-term forecast.
  • Select the proper nozzle and droplet size to maximize coverage and minimize drift.
  • Keep records of all applications.
  • Maintain an appropriate buffer zone when spraying near susceptible off-target areas.
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