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Adverse conditions create challenges for pesticide applicators

The 2021 growing season continues to throw its challenges at growers and producers across the Upper Midwest. Included in that group are the pesticide applicators who are forced to adapt to the dry and windy conditions seen throughout the growing season to date.

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Pesticide applicators have been forced to adapt to the dry and windy conditions seen throughout the 2021 growing season. Photo by Mike Spieker / Agweek
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The 2021 growing season continues to throw its challenges at growers and producers across the Upper Midwest. Included in that group are the pesticide applicators who are forced to adapt to the dry and windy conditions seen throughout the growing season to date.

For grower Jason Strand of Portland, N.D., the wind has been the biggest issue.

“We’ve caught a couple days when the wind and the conditions have been favorable for spraying dicamba,” he said. “There haven’t been very many days when it hasn’t been windy, but luckily I’ve been able to get out and get my stuff sprayed. Hopefully we can get another round (of dicamba) in before the end of the month.”

June 30 is the cutoff date for dicamba applications in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Some counties in the region have had an added struggle in getting dicamba sprayed if they were designated as having endangered species . In that case, they needed to expand their buffer spraying areas, said Paul Johnson, South Dakota State University Extension weed science coordinator.

“All the fields that I've got on my list from my agronomist, I’ve got to make sure those get sprayed. Once we get to that deadline, you are kind of out of luck,” Strand said. “There isn’t much weed control that you can do with what’s available to us (outside of dicamba). The next few days until the 30th will be a mad rush for everybody to get that second spray, or first for some, done.”

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Along with the strong winds keeping him from spraying, Strand also said the winds, and blowing soil as a result, have sandblasted his soybeans and have kept them from taking off and creating the cover needed to help lessen the risk of drift.

All things considered, however, Strand said that the dry and windy 2021 so far doesn’t compare to the considerably wet 2020 growing season .

“It’s not as terrible as it was last year. Last year things were so wet, we weren’t able to get out and spray. We are paying the price for that now this year,” he said.

With dry soils, many farmers have had to run irrigation systems just to activate herbicides, and even then, the performance of pre- and post-emergence products has been disappointing.

"Weed control is going to be very tough this year. We don't have humidity, we don't have good growing conditions," Johnson said. "So, post-emergence products aren't working as good. So make sure you're applying them early before the weeds get too big."

Strand said a lot of the pre-emergence he put down on his corn didn’t work the greatest, because there was no rain to activate it. But on the other hand, he mentioned that since it’s been so dry, a lot of the weeds haven’t germinated yet.

Dylan Gahm, a commercial applicator in west central Minnesota, also noted that not only the wind but the heat as well have thrown a wrench into his application schedule.

“Heat has been a problem. There’s been a few days so far when it’s been too hot and we had to quit. The weeds kind of shut down when it gets that hot. They won’t take the chemical in,” he said. “Overall, the control has been pretty good. We haven’t seen too many issues.”

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Gahm optimistically mentioned that amid the drought conditions, a benefit has emerged for applicators like himself.

“It’s been dry enough where there hasn’t been dew in the morning so we’ve been able to get going early before the winds pick up,” he said. “With the heat and things being so dry, we also haven’t had to worry about wet spots in the field and all the stuff that comes with wet conditions.”

Andrew Thostenson, Pesticide Program Specialist for North Dakota State University Extension, said this year ranks among the most challenging he’s seen for North Dakota applicators.

“In North Dakota, trying to find spray days is very difficult. This year in particular, not only have we been challenged with relatively consistent winds, we’ve also been challenged with extremely low humidities and high temperatures,” said Thostenson.

"The low humidity and high temperatures causes the spray droplet to evaporate once it’s coming out of the sprayer before it actually hits the desired target or weeds," Thorstenson explained. "That presents a challenge in terms of coverage and ultimately, efficacy. It also presents a secondary challenge because as the spray droplets evaporate and get smaller and smaller, they become subjected to more wind movement."

Thostenson also said that many weeds “harden up” as a response to drought in dry weather situations. The weeds develop much greater waxy cuticles, which makes it harder to get good penetration into the plant with the herbicide.

“The weeds also grow much more slowly because they are under moisture stress,” Thostenson added. “Because they are growing so slowly, the movement of the herbicide throughout the plant isn’t as fast. Because that gets slowed down, the weeds generally have a better ability to tolerate it much better than the ordinarily would.”

Uneven moisture in fields at planting have also created variable stands this spring. Thostenson added that when a grower has plants that are well established and some that are just emerging because they have finally received the moisture needed, that adds another challenge into a grower’s spraying program.

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“That is a pretty common problem this year,” he said.

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