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Farmers listen as pesticide application specialist Bob Wolf of Illinois talks about off-target dicamba herbicide problems in 2017 soybeans in an education forum on the opening day of the 37th Big Iron show in West Fargo, N.D., on Sept. 12. Photo taken Sept. 12, 2017, at West Fargo, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Pesticide instructor to farmers: ‘Dig in” on inversion learning

WEST FARGO, N.D. — Regardless of future regulation or legal issues, an educator in agricultural pesticide application techniques urges farmers to "dig in" on learning labels and temperature inversions to make the best of dicamba in 2018.

"Try to have conversations in your neighborhood to understand what's going on where," said Bob Wolf of Wolf Consulting and Research of Mahomet, Ill., speaking at the 37th Big Iron Farm Show in West Fargo. "And if nothing else, learn more about how to deal with (temperature) inversions, about when to spray and when not to."

Wolf spoke on the Red River Farm Network stage on Sept.12. Wolf had a career in Extension Service pesticide training at Illinois State University and then 13 years at Kansas State University before retiring and starting his own consulting firm in Illinois.

BASF trainer

In the past year Wolf worked with the BASF "On Target Application Academy" training program for the dicamba formulation roll-out — focusing on timing, clean-out, boom height and spray pressures. The training didn't focus so much on volatility because the companies "had made improvements in volatility."

But because of widespread allegations of off-target dicamba damage on non-resistant soybeans, Wolf said he expects a bigger education effort in 2018, with BASF hoping to field 100 "local' trainers. The Environmental Protection Agency had approved the new formulations for two years, so he thinks it will still be a factor in 2018, but there will need to be some stepped-up education and perhaps regulatory restriction on its use.

Wolf said some companies are starting to offer software tools available next year that measure temperature at both the boom height and an extended height of 12 feet or so. The device can can be carried in a sprayer cab to verify that spraying isn't being done in a temperature inversion, which can cause the chemical to volatilize and move for miles and damage crops not resistant to dicamba.

Dicamba concerns have ballooned into a hot issue for farmers across the row-crop areas of the region, with some crop consultants seeing significant damage in non-dicamba-resistant beans. Damaged beans had cupping leaves and stunted growth that farmers fear was caused by drift and volatility. on Sept.12 announced they'd filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, BASF and DuPont for their alleged roles in off-target damages. Monsanto has said that 99 percent of their clientele have been pleased with their Xtend soybean results in 2016 and that 75 percent of the remaining 1 percent have acknowledged off-label or incorrect spraying technique.

Volatility issue

Wolf, through the BASF program, trained that timing, clean out, boom height and spray pressures are key factors in making on-target spraying. The training for the 2017 crop didn't focus so much on volatility, because the companies "had made improvements in volatility."

Wolf thinks there was not enough work done in the field at the proper level and intensity to learn about the dangers of volatility. He urged farmers and other applicators to keep good records of the weather conditions when spraying.

He's put together a 13-point document, with places for weather conditions (wind speed, direction, temperature, humidity) but also other data, including nozzle type, nozzle pressure, equipment and timing.

Wolf expects those spray recommendations soon will be available through the American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators, perhaps on a Listserv or through Twitter.

Meanwhile, state agriculture departments now are working to consider whether there needs to be planting restrictions. Wolf listed actions taken in states to the south. Missouri has imposed restrictions that require application between 9 am. to 3 p.m., and he expects other states to do the same. He said that has the double-edged problem of putting spraying in windier parts of days.

He said 2017 has been a year of soybeans "loaded down with (herbicide-) resistant weeds," which will distribute the seeds and "keep building this problem."

Time to spray?

In response to an audience question, Wolf said he hadn't heard about farmers in neighborhoods attempting to band together to agree to plant a certain (dicamba-ready) technology in 2018. Wolf said he thought such an agreement would be a "challenge" to put in place.

Wolf criticized the EPA for approving the technology based primarily on reducing drift exposure to "endangered species" and not efficacy, although he later acknowledged the EPA isn't responsible for efficacy — only environmental safety.

Wolf and Andrew Thostenson, a North Dakota State University Extension Service pesticide application training specialist, said governments may try to set dates, such as June 15, to avoid hotter temperatures that can lead to temperature inversions. But they worried aloud about the moral dilemma — farmers facing weather limits for applying herbicides to timely control weeds while facing those deadlines.

A retailer might have to decide whether to follow the rules or knuckle under to a customer who represents thousands of acres of business.

"'If I say no, what might happen? He might go somewhere else to do his business,'" Wolf said, in a hypothetical conversation, adding, "Those are the kinds of games that are going on out there."

One farmer in the audience who had been blamed for off-target spraying, in frustration with the potential restrictions on the chemicals, said the rinsing procedures are becoming too complicated and time-consuming. And he asked when all of the excessive wind or calm (inversion) times are eliminated, "When is it going to be time to spray?"

Alarming time

Wolf noted that one Purdue University report released Sept. 6 showed that Indiana showed what researchers said was an "alarming" small window of days in the wet 2017 growing season when dicamba could be applied to allow excellent weed control and meeting label requirements.

The study showed 13 days in the season were not ideal, 13 days were possible, and only 6 days allowed "ideal" spraying conditions, according to the dicamba formulation label.

Some Big Iron exhibitors were offering solutions to new spraying challenges.

One was Jason Dannelly, a regional location manager for Ag Spray Equipment Inc., of Fargo, (formerly Horvick Manufacturing) who supervises Fargo and Mankato, Minn., operations. Dannelly said there has been a trend toward more designs to ensure that tank clean-out is going as well as possible.

"Nobody wants to have a residual chemical in a tank," he said. Tank composition also needs to be appropriate — stainless steel, polyurethane or aluminum — for fertilizer versus tanks just for water. He says many farmers are looking at retrofitting older sprayers with nozzle controls and other equipment.