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Economic stakes ever higher with herbicide drift this year

A couple of articles ago, I wrote that this would be the highest risk crop that most Arkansas farmers have planted. The outlook is excellent, but the input costs are far above what we have ever experienced.

With that in mind, the risk associated with any potential herbicide drift is also at a record high. A farmer can not afford to lose a crop in any field any year, but the potential consequences of a loss for any reason this year are even greater.

I have already had two calls this spring from a farmer and a consultant saying, “This guy just got through spraying a burndown herbicide with the wind blowing right toward my wheat.” I hope things will be fine in both situations, but the farmers will not know for sure until the wheat heads develop. In both cases the guys have a ton of money in the crop and have it booked at a high price.

Right now we are in the prime time for injury to heading wheat from glyphosate. When it dries up — and it will although some farmers are beginning to wonder — we will be in the prime time for injury to seedling rice, grain sorghum and corn that is not Roundup Ready. A lot of burndown herbicide that normally would have been applied may not have been due to the prolonged wet weather.

All of these factors can set up for some drift messes if good judgment does not prevail. I am not predicting a bad year. We had an excellent year last year and I certainly hope it continues. I just wish to remind everyone that a drift claim this year will likely be far more expensive than in previous years.

In addition, a lot of the claims that have been handled with a handshake or some other type of private settlement may not be this year due to the higher risk and potential losses involved.

With the prolonged wet period and the rush for everyone to get in the field as soon as possible, a lot of burndown herbicides will likely be applied by aircraft. Before I get any irate phone calls, this is not necessarily bad. I look at as many or more glyphosate complaints dealing with ground equipment than with aircraft.

I know both aerial applicators and ground applicators who seldom if ever have a drift complaint. However the potential to affect a much larger area often exists if poor judgment is used with an airplane.

On the other hand, I get in situations each year where the ground applicator thought he was “bullet proof.” There remains a perception among some ground applicators that if the booms are low, they have air induction or some other drift minimizing nozzle and a drift retardant, there will be no drift, almost regardless of conditions.

The comment I often get when I'm involved in drift situations is, “I just did not think it would go that far!” Sometimes if it was an aircraft sprayer, the distance may be a mile or more. With a ground sprayer, the application was often right across the turn row.

I cannot count how many times I have stood on the turn row separating the sprayed field and affected field and been told, “I knew the wind was blowing toward the affected crop, but the way my sprayer is set up there is no way it would have moved over there.”

A better one yet is, “I knew the wind was blowing toward his crop so I left off a couple of passes next to it.”

I am not saying there are not situations where a few passes may not need to be left off, but in most of those, the application probably should not be made.

I sure do not wish to jinx us. I just want to remind everyone to make sure the equipment is set up properly and to not make applications that should not be made. Mistakes will be very expensive this year. The main mistake is simply blowing the chemical toward a susceptible crop with either aircraft or ground equipment.

If you call me and say, “Doc, I have a such and such mph wind blowing toward my neighbor's crop a such and such distance away. Could it drift that far?” My answer will be “yes.”

I hope the wet weather will run out for a while and everyone will be in the field when you read this.

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