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Many drift problems in Arkansas rice fields

I hope the way this year is starting in the field is not a sign of things to come. I am spending the bulk of my time in fields looking at drift problems on rice. My university counterparts tell me they are doing the same thing.

The problems are either from Newpath drift from Clearfield to conventional rice or glyphosate drift problems. Sometimes the cause of the problem and the source of the cause are obvious. Other times, it is obvious that drift has occurred but it is impossible to determine the source.

I have been fields of “sick” rice in which I couldn’t determine for sure that slight drift was a contributing cause, but it sure was suspect.

We have a high risk crop with input costs going through the roof; farmers with affected fields are very much on edge.

I do not claim to have all of the answers to the drift problem; it is a complex issue. When I look at enough fields I see about everything. With Newpath drift, the source is usually close to the affected field. In most cases they are adjacent fields.

We are rapidly reaching the point where half of the rice acreage will be in Clearfield rice. Many problems could be prevented with better coordination of the location of Clearfield fields and conventional fields on your own farm and with better communication with neighbors with adjoining fields.

One farmer told me recently, “My neighbor has been planting that field next to mine in Clearfield rice when he has it in and I have been planting mine in conventional rice. This year I planted mine in Clearfield to make it easy for us and he planted conventional!”

Better coordination of field location is not all of the solution, but it sure could help.

The glyphosate drift issue is much more complex. I am constantly asked, “Why are other states not having this problem?” The most obvious answer is that in most states it is primarily Roundup Ready crops that are intercropped. In contrast, Arkansas farmers plant around 1.5 million acres of rice intercropped with Roundup Ready crops.

Rice is generally much more sensitive to glyphosate drift than to Newpath drift — that is, it takes a lower concentration of glyphosate to cause damage. As a result, a damaging drift can come from much greater distances away.

One farmer called me to his field this spring and told me he was afraid he had glyphosate drift and he was afraid he had done it to himself. Sure enough, he did and he had. His response was, “The field I had sprayed is a half-mile away!”

I told him I had tracked one drift 2 miles so far this spring and have seen worse in the past. He said, “If it will go that far, people need to know!” A lot of us sure have tried to get the message out.

The year before last, several of us so-called experts spent a lot of the winter at the Arkansas State Plant Board as part of a glyphosate drift task force to try to propose some solutions to the problem. One thing proposed was an extensive education and certification program for farmers and applicators. I do not think for a minute that is the entire answer, but education needs to be the starting point.

In the end, a two-person chemical industry lobby effectively killed the educational program by killing the funding for it in committee. I had two thoughts (that are printable) at the time.

The first thought was, “Why would industry want to kill an educational program to promote a more effective use of their own products and what was the committee thinking to allow it to happen?”

The second thought was, “If the industry lobby is so much more effective than the task force, maybe they should be charged with coming up with a solution to the problem.”

Last year was much better from a drift standpoint and a lot of people were thinking maybe we did more good than we thought. I hope the problem will go away this year, but I do not like the way the season is starting out. The crops are late, farmers are in a rush and it has been windy — a bad combination.


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