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Communication is key to reducing spray drift potentialCommunication is key to reducing spray drift potential

Specialty crop farmer and crop consultant use DriftWatch to register crops in the Delta.

Whitney Haigwood

May 31, 2023

6 Min Read
Two men standing in a shop talking.
Arkansas specialty farmer Brian Kelly (left) and certified crop consultant Mike Simmons (right) discuss their communication efforts to prevent spray drift on crops they manage in the Delta.Whitney Haigwood

At a Glance

  • An Arkansas specialty crop producer shares his experience with off-target pesticide movement and tools for prevention.
  • Crop consultant in the Delta registers his fields with FieldWatch as a proactive measure to reduce drift potential.

In northeast Arkansas, Brian Kelly, owner of Quality Gladiolus Gardens, has been involved in specialty crops his entire life. The family business has been in operation since 1922. Kelly has operated on his pollinator serviced acreage in Bay since 2003. There he grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and floriculture.  

Ten acres of Kelly’s farm sits adjacent to an ag flying service and is surrounded by row crop fields, and directly across the road is a railroad track. So, he understands the challenge of spray drift all too well, noting it is common to experience some type of damage to his crop each year. This comes primarily from 2,4-D and then dicamba later in the season.  

Just up the road, Mike Simmons is an Arkansas licensed agricultural consultant and a certified crop advisor. His independent operation, M & J Ag Consulting, LLC., has served many row crop producers in the northeast corner of the state since 2019.  

While his consulting business is relatively new, he is not new to ag. Simmons’s ag centered career goes back to his previous work as a consultant at a local farm cooperative since 1987. There is no doubt that he too understands the importance to reduce off-target movement of chemicals in row crops. This year his fields include rice, soybean, and corn acres. 

Related:Ag communication tool to reduce spray drift

Together, Kelly and Simmons joined Farm Press to talk about the importance of communication to mitigate potential spray drift issues. They also shared about their use of DriftWatch, a collaborative communication tool they utilize to proactively protect the crops in their care. 

From a specialty crop perspective 

Kelly’s production year begins in early February as he starts seedlings for transplants. The plants remain in containers on trailers until he is ready to plant them later in the spring. He then manages and harvests the crop to sell at the local Judd Hill Farmer’s Market.  

To avoid total crop loss, Kelly is strategic to stagger his planting windows for sensitive crops like tomatoes throughout the season. That way, if some of the plants get damaged from weather or spray drift, he can still maintain a healthy crop with additional plantings later in the year. 

Kelly is also mindful about where he plants on the farm. He pointed out an area he has nicknamed “the gauntlet.” A wind tunnel on his farm is formed in the open space between his shop and greenhouse buildings, and a southwest wind will inevitably blow across a portion of his field that he is sure to protect. 

“I have no windbreak in this section of the farm. There are five miles with nothing in between to stop the wind, and anything that anyone sprays comes right between these buildings and across this section of the farm. So, I wait until nearby farmers are finished with applications before I plant anything on these rows,” he explained. 

While his specialty crop operation may include a variety of pesticide sensitive plants, he assured that he appreciates and understands row crop production. 

“Specialty crops were not always our sole source of farming. Sweetcorn, grain sorghum and soybeans have also contributed to our family farm operation. Having been in the row crop business before, I know one hundred percent that when you need to get chemical out, you need to get it out. I also know just as well that you need to keep it off the other guy.” 

Hand stretched out holding a blackberry leaf that is curled from the impact of pesticide spray drift.

Kelly relies on DriftWatch to enhance communication about crops on his farm and register his planted sites. Information is publically available through FieldWatch, a non-profit company that also provides a mobile app for applicators called FieldCheck. The information can be accessed prior to aerial or ground application and alert of any pesticide sensitive crops nearby.  

Furthermore, beehives on Kelly’s property are also registered through the BeeCheck tool and stored in the FieldWatch registry.  

These tools promote cooperation within the ag community, and Kelly said when the data platform took off in Arkansas, he knew it would be a proactive measure to protect the livelihood of his operation. He has even placed DriftWatch signs on his property to indicate his participation in the registry. 

As for the surrounding farms and applicators, Kelly has good neighbors, and they maintain an open line of communication. “Anytime they get ready to spray or do anything, they call me. Communication is the key. We work with everybody and do all we can to help each other. That is what you have to do. You’ve got to talk,” he said.  

By the time his plants are off and growing in the spring, farmers nearby are preparing for burndown applications. With a phone call, Kelly is prepared to move the loaded trailers into his shop or greenhouse to protect them from potential off-target movement. 

He said, “My biggest total money-making months are June and July when we have the largest crowds at the farmer’s market. So, if I happen to get sprayed with burndown on my plants that I have started early, I will lose the two months I have invested in them. Then I have lost June and July sales which is about 80 percent of the money I am going to make for the year.” 

Crop consultant’s point of view 

One look at the Arkansas DriftWatch map leaves no question that Simmons is proactive in protecting the crops in his care. He registers every field for his clients and updates the information annually to reflect the upcoming row crop production season.  

“I have had as many as 400 fields in the database for growers that I work for as a crop consultant,” Simmons said. 

He acknowledged that it does take time to enter the information and register the sites, but it is worth it in the end. 

“Everyone needs to take the time to look at it, so we don’t make mistakes. If we have that information, we can eliminate some drift potential situations that arise,” Simmons added. 

Simmons said he heard about FieldWatch through Arkansas Extension county agents in Clay and Greene counties. He said they were instrumental in getting him on board. He tried it the first year and has entered all his fields each year since then. He also noted that it has saved him a time or two. 

“It is especially helpful if beehives pop up all the sudden. Once we were needing to put out insecticide but realized there were beehives nearby on the registry. We had to wait and spray at a different time when the wind got right,” Simmons explained. 

Collaborative efforts continue 

Delta states with access to the mapped FieldWatch registry include Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee; and both Kelly and Simmons agreed that the tools provided by FieldWatch are underutilized in the area.  

“It is only as good as the data you enter, and everybody needs to know where to go look,” Simmons added. 

In fact, even Bob Walters, company CEO and president, is surprised that many are unaware the technology exists. “It is interesting that some people have never heard of us. That just reinforces that we need to get the word out as we continue to encourage and promote awareness,” he said. 

If you would like more details on FieldWatch product offerings, you can check out the article Ag communication tool to reduce spray drift.

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