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Drift problems raising farmers' stress levels

Last week I wrote that I am more concerned than I have ever been before about the amount of off-target herbicide movement I am seeing in Arkansas fields.

There have always been some off-target issues with herbicides, and there always will be. It is not a perfect world and sometimes honest mistakes happen.

However, for the past couple of years, most of my time in the field has been occupied with off-target or drift situations that have not been caused by honest mistakes.

I have written several articles about the problems we are having with glyphosate drift onto seedling rice. The problem is rapidly increasing.

This year, problems with 2,4-D on cotton are back in the headlines.

Now, that rice is heading, glyphosate drift calls are coming back in again.

Drift issues are never good. However, with farmers' stress levels running as high as they are and everyone struggling to survive, drift problems are far more critical.

Whether I am in a damaged cotton, rice or soybean field, the one thing I constantly hear is “this could put me out of business!” Margins are so tight that farmers are struggling for survival when they make a near perfect crop. There is simply no room for mistakes on the farmer's part and certainly no room for yield losses due to a drift from someone else.

I am on the Arkansas State Plant Board task force to study the glyphosate drift issue. I am sure the 2,4-D complaints (reportedly running over 100) will get some Plant Board attention as well.

My concern from the field goes beyond what can be done from a regulatory standpoint. I am concerned about the level of farmer strife I have observed this year. A lot of things are said in the heat of the moment when a farmer is standing in his field that has been damaged. Over time cooler heads usually prevail and that is good.

I am convinced that educational programs and regulatory changes can help the drift situation a lot. There are good examples where we have taken some problem situations and turned them around nicely.

Off-target problems from Facet have essentially become a non-issue in the field. This has been accomplished through a combination of regulatory changes, education and the registration of some alternative herbicides that could be used in situations where Facet drift could be an issue.

Command is an example of a herbicide for which huge off target issues were solved by a formulation change by the manufacturer.

I do not know what specific things that will be offered for the problems we are having now but there will be some. The last thing we need in agriculture in Arkansas is for one group of farmers to be pitted against another.

I do not even like using the terms “rice farmer” and “cotton farmer.” To me some farmers are primarily rice farmers, some are primarily cotton farmers and some are both. Regardless of crop emphasis, they are all farmers.

Agriculture does not have enough clout even when everyone involved is pulling together. Agriculture sure does not need one group squared off against another group over herbicides that all farmers are dependent upon.

I have been asked by several groups recently to speak on this issue. One of the things I am going to plead for is a grass roots effort in the area of drift management.

Sure, some things can be done by education and regulation. I can tell you from 30 years in a university education role that you reach some and some you do not. I also already know that the Plant Board cannot hire enough folks to police every herbicide application.

However, if farmers and applicators decide enough is enough, then good things will happen. We simply must have a grass roots effort to use the herbicides we depend upon for a living in a manner that doesn't harm someone else's crop.

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