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In Arkansas Drift damage adds to farmers' woes

I recently looked at some of my articles from August of last year — I was writing about high fuel prices, a hellish drought and other things taking a toll on farmers. Well, fuel prices are even higher and most areas of Arkansas are again in a hellish drought.

This year started out much better for most farmers than last year did, but it is tough out there now. In my job, I am not called to look at good fields. In fact, I am not asked to look at a huge number of fields for the purpose of making weed control decisions.

Most calls about weed control are from crop consultants working for Riceland members. There is a sharp group of rice consultants out there. When they call, decisions can usually be made on the phone.

Most callers asking me to look at fields involve trouble due to things like herbicide injury or herbicide drift. Like last year, the stress level on farmers, especially those who have fields in trouble, is off the scale.

I have been asked to speak to several groups recently about the drift situation. One comment I have made is that if farmers were making money, the drift issue would not be as big as it is. While the drift may not be any less, if farmers were making money, there would be more tolerance.

However, when everyone is just hanging on by the skin of their teeth, a disaster in one field can put someone out of business. In fact, I heard far too many times this year that “this could put me out of business.”

I have always taken farmers' problems very seriously. However, I learned early in my career that I could not do anything about them in the middle of the night, so I rarely let them keep me awake. I have lost sleep this year simply due to the stress level I have seen on the faces of farmers.

I am an optimist and keep thinking, “This too shall pass.” And it will. I am just not sure when and what things are going to look like when it happens.

I have been getting quite a few comments and questions on drift issues. A grower I respect greatly told me the other day, “We have to ban 2,4-D in rice to protect cotton.” I reminded him that some rice growers felt the same about glyphosate.

His response was 2,4-D is moving because of acts of God whereas glyphosate is moving due to misapplication and folks doing dumb things. If the 2,4-D moved in a temperature inversion, which I believe is the case, the inversion is indeed an act of God. However, putting the 2,4-D out in the inversion is misapplication. A 30 mph wind is an act of God. Applying glyphosate in that 30 mph wind is misapplication.

Trying to come up with solutions to some of the drift problems will be a challenge, it always is. Everyone has an easy answer on how to solve the problem in his best interest. The trick is finding the compromise that is most fair for everyone involved.

It is going to take a grassroots effort among farmers and applicators to solve much of the problem. My guess is that regulation changes will occur with both 2,4-D and glyphosate.

If the regulations in place were followed, however, we would not be having problems now. The conditions under which inversions exist are much better defined and understood today than they were earlier in my career.

Simply waiting for a 2- to 3-degree temperature rise and a defined wind will avoid most of them. The other simple factors are not spraying when it is too windy and when susceptible crops are too close downwind.

There is the temptation to aerial applicators to get going in the calm early hour to “beat the wind.” Ground applicators are not bothered by inversions, but have temptations related to wind speed.

I do not believe many herbicide applications can safely be made in wind speeds exceeding 10 mph. That statement should generate some comments and I will start there next time.

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