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David Kee, director of research with Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, speaks on Jan. 25 at the Minnesota AgExpo in Mankato, flanked by Dan Dvorak, ag chemical investigator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Photo taken Jan. 26, 2017, Mankato, Minn. (Mikkel Pates, Agweek)

The drift: Ag adjusts to tricky tech

MANKATO, Minn. — Farmers and applicators are getting the drift on how to cope with increasing complications over spray drift in 2017 and beyond.

The first step is thorough study of chemicals labels and new nozzle requirements, said Director of research with Minnesota Soybean Growers Association David Kee. He spoke Jan. 25 at the Minnesota Ag Expo in Mankato.

Kee moderated a session called "Keep it on your side of the fence," in which state officials and chemical manufacturers and marketers talked about increased complications in crop technology and spraying, but also the many resources farmers and their collaborators have in managing modern agriculture.

Drift management has always been an issue, but it was easier for farmers when glyphosate-resistant soybeans and corn were new. "Now, we have more chemistry, more issues coming up, and drift management is coming into vogue. We have to keep it on our side of the fence," Kee said.

Thorny details

Recent chemistry tools such as Enlist Duo, XtendiMax or Engenia herbicide programs are leading to regulation focus, including buffer spaces, and downwind drift recommendations.

"They're heavily regulating based on the potential for drift," Kee said. No one wants to let the value of the chemical that has drifted away, or to negatively impact neighbors.

One of the new complications is the increased level of tolerance to certain chemicals, even within crops such as soybeans, and they "all look just like each other." He said a key will be communicating with neighbors, including what's being planted and the interaction between neighboring fields.

XtendiMax soybeans require the use of specific TeeJet nozzles. "That's a big step that we haven't experienced before," Kee said. Besides using the correct nozzle, the farmer has to pay attention to whether nozzles have worn out and lose tolerance.

"It all comes back to reading the label and being aware of what you're supposed to do," he says. "Do what you're supposed to do, not what you think you need to do."

Watching wear

David Nicolai, University of Minnesota Extension regional educator in crops, based in Farmington and St. Paul, says some of the growth-regulator types of herbicide are adding to the complications, but growers will have nozzle holder systems that allow them to simply turn to the particular nozzles they need for particular herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

"We really recommend growers do a check at the beginning of the year, maybe at the middle of the year, to make sure those nozzles are performing — putting out the same type of product in terms of the rate and their spray calculation," he said.

He doesn't know of any research that assesses farmer habits on nozzle and other selections, or whether large or smaller farmers are adapting more quickly. Farmers will need to spend time in study and invest in the tools and to use computer apps and other tools to help them.

He said results from spray drift complaints or responses at educational meetings. "A lot of them have made a lot of progress, but there is probably a ways to go to make sure they're staying up with the current technology," he said. "I'd say we're making good progress on their awareness."

Ross Recker, weed management technology development representative for Monsanto. The company has developed Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and herbicides that work with that, including XtendiMax, which is designed to cut the risk of volatility. The company is working with commercial spraying networks and farmers to make sure they understand the label requirements on issues such as nozzles and boom height. "It's going to time and preparation," he said.

Dan Dvorak, an ag chemical investigator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said 13 investigators cover 12 territories in Minnesota. One of their tasks is investigating 100 to 150 written complaints that come in a typical year. About half of those involve farm cases, and half are urban.

The department is making sure the applications were made according to labels.

Dvorak said he doesn't think new chemistries and labels will make enforcement any more complicated than it has been. Fines in cases of wrongdoing typically are several hundred dollars, but damaged parties can seek civil damages, he said.

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