Good fences may make good neighbors, but the chemicals and herbicides you spray on your fields obey the wind and weather more than fence lines.
"Farmers are usually under the gun to get their crops sprayed," said Vicky Hartgers, farm claims manager at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company. "They are fighting the weather to do that."
Before you spray your fields, Grinnell Mutual recommends talking to your neighbors, watching the weather forecast, and taking your time to prepare for spraying. It could prevent a costly accident.
1. Take your time.
Mother Nature challenges farmers, giving them narrow windows to spray fields.
"Sometimes a farmer can avoid a windy day and other times they just need to get that field sprayed," said Hartgers. "Be aware if there’s a garden, organic crops, or a vineyard next door. If the wind changes, you need to do something different."
Other times farmer can inadvertently mix chemicals incorrectly, using an improper nozzle, or even grabbing the wrong container to add to a mix. Take a few moments to review the product label closely and the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each chemical. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for nozzle type and spray boom height and document information about your spraying.
2. Watch the weather.
Whether spraying your own fields or hiring a contract sprayer, weather conditions may cause spray to drift, also called off-target movement. Either way, the spray could damage crops, trees, and organics in neighboring fields and properties.
"When processing crop damage claims, it’s not unusual for us to hear stories about changes in the weather," said Hartgers. "We hear, ‘I saw him out there. When he started the wind was five miles per hour but then it was blowing 25 miles per hour and he didn’t stop.’"
Humidity and even a light breeze can create serious drifting hazards for certain chemicals, so know how the chemicals you apply will react to the weather, the wind conditions, and the humidity.
"There is a misconception that applying chemicals when there is no wind will eliminate all possible concerns with chemical drift," said Larry Gallagher, director of corporate loss control at Grinnell Mutual. "Many chemical manufacturers recommend against applying chemicals when the wind speed is less than three miles per hour because small chemical droplets may remain suspended in air and result in off target chemical movement should the wind pick up after application."
A handheld wind gauge for use in the field to monitor wind direction and velocity can certainly be a valuable tool to assist in the decision making related to chemical application. Maintaining documentation on wind information and related weather conditions may be beneficial should an allegation of chemical damage to crops or fruit trees occur in the future. Application of chemicals within the recommended range of temperatures may also help to prevent damage to crops and other vegetation.
"I truly think it comes down to the knowing the chemicals or herbicides you are using and the weather that day," said Hartgers. "We see issues with farmers that spray late in the day, right before the dew sets. Be aware of the time. Before you spray, check to see if the chemicals will have adequate time to dry before moisture sets in for the evening."
3. Talk to your neighbors.
Hartgers sees more farmers working together to prevent issues with drift, planting not just the same kind of grain, but the same herbicide-ready seed so that no one damages anything when they spray.
"In a lot of the states where we do business, there are no fences between fields anymore. They farm row to row," said Hartgers, who also farms with her husband. "The farmers who have fewer problems are the ones who keep their neighbors informed. Know your neighbors and what they are growing in your area. Most of them understand that spraying is a part of crop farming."