Don't Catch My Drift

Pesticide training helps farmers spray safer

Agriculture producers often walk a fine line between protecting crops and controlling the amount of chemicals they use in production to prevent negative impacts on other crops and the environment.

An educational training system developed by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) called “Using Pesticides Wisely” is helping Georgia farmers drastically reduce pesticide drift in the state," said Stanley Culpepper, UGA Extension weed scientist.

“Science confirms that growers must have access to economically effective pesticides,” Culpepper said. “However, it is just as important that these pesticides are implemented carefully and strategically and in ways to protect the consumer, the grower and their neighbors, and the environment.”

Between 2015 and 2018, 45 “Using Pesticides Wisely” classroom trainings were held, targeting more than 4,000 growers, consultants and industry leaders. Of those attendees who responded to a survey, more than 98 percent believed the training was beneficial and would improve on-target pesticide applications.

Since the training’s implementation, UGA Extension noted a 67% reduction in pesticide drift complaints, including zero dicamba drift cases reported to the GDA in 2017.

“We feel like the training has been very impactful. I feel like the growers followed a lot of the information that was presented,” said Tommy Gray, director for the GDA plant division. “I give our growers a lot of credit. I feel like they really try to follow label directions and try to do the right thing.”

This year the program is expected to train more than 3,500 growers and pesticide applicators. Research from 12 UGA-led experiments in 2018 are highlighted during the trainings to further improve targeted pesticide applications.

Culpepper led UGA research that identified 15 factors that should be considered to successfully manage off-target pesticide movement. For example, land terrain and wind direction relative to the sprayer when it is applying a pesticide, as well as the speed of the sprayer, can have significant influence on drift.

He also advises applicators to stay under 10 miles per hour with sprayer speed when possible, and maintain a maximum boom height of 24 inches above the target pest or crop canopy. Drift distances can be reduced by half with a 24-inch boom compared to one at 50 inches.

Georgia farmers produce more than 40 vegetable and fruit crops alongside numerous agronomic crops including auxin-tolerant cotton and soybeans. Crops like grapes, lima beans, peppers, snap beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and watermelons are particularly vulnerable to damage by pesticide drift. Culpepper advises against auxin herbicide applications being made near sensitive crops.

Culpepper, who leads many of the trainings, grew up on a family farm in North Carolina and understands what’s at stake for farmers and the need for producers to be better stewards of resources.

“Many factors have contributed to the success in Georgia. I believe that one of the most important factors has been the cooperative effort of growers, applicators, regulators, Extension agents, consultants, scientists and local industry partners,” Culpepper said. “Growers have the latest science-based information that will help them facilitate on-target pesticide applications, which is their goal.”

Beginning in 2017, classroom trainings were supplemented by a one-on-one training program to provide additional education in the field. Extension agents visited with applicators to reinforce what was being taught in the classroom.

Gray agreed that county agents have been instrumental to the GDA through the years, not just with this effort.

“They’re the boots on the ground and they’ve been extremely cooperative with us. Anytime we need to get information out there we can rely on the Extension network to get that information into the right hands, whether that’s the growers or dealers,” Gray said.

The Plant Industry Division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture mandates the training, making it a requirement in 2019 for all who purchase or apply Engenia, XtendiMax or FeXapan (new dicamba products) and for those in charge of an in-crop application of Enlist One or Enlist Duo (new 2,4-D products).

For questions regarding pesticide drift or other agricultural-related matters, contact your local UGA county Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

By Clint Thompson

Drone shot of tractor using pesticide
Pesticide drift can lead to damage in human health, environmental contamination and crop damage. Training requirements instituted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and implemented by UGA Extension experts have led to more judicious pesticide application statewide. In 2017, zero cases of drift due to in-season applications of dicamba or 2,4-D, were reported to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, though there were more than 2,700 official investigations into auxin off-target deposition across 24 other states.