Putting pen to paper. It’s the first step an applicator takes when spraying their fields each season. The process involves printing paper maps of the fields, calling all of the neighboring field operators to ask what they’ve planted, and refreshing weather apps to track wind speed and direction on the day of application. The stakes are high. While it’s meticulous work, it’s not foolproof and the consequences of off-target drift can be severe. So severe, in fact, that no one wants the liability, and the problem has the unsurprising attention of the EPA, as we all learned on June 8, 2020.
The Problem We Already Know
The problem is two-fold with significant economic consequences. The most immediate threat of spraying herbicides is, of course, spray drift damage, which causes millions of acres of crop damage each year. The chart below is outdated, but there’s no indication that spray drift complaints have subsided in recent years. In fact, farmers in Illinois have reported record levels of crop damage caused by pesticide drift in 2019, with 590 dicamba-related complaints as of Aug. 23, 2019. It’s difficult to understand if these numbers are over-reported or under-reported, but we expect these complaints to rise as people have become more aware of off-target drift relating specifically to dicamba.
As complaints of drift damage rise, so will insurance claims & settlements. That’s a given.
Another concern is herbicide-resistant weeds. They are the reason that we’re in this position, after all. As resistance grows, growers are left with two choices, both with economic implications on either end of the spectrum. U.S. growers are forced to decide between trait packages that have stronger effects on herbicide-resistant weeds, with the threat of a potential insurance claim, or select a more conservative trait package, with potential crop yield and economic loss due to the prevalence of herbicide-resistant weed biotypes. In the Memorandum Supporting Decision to Approve Registration for the Uses of Dicamba on Dicamba Tolerant Cotton and Soybean, it was noted that, “when glyphosate resistant weeds were present in soybeans there was a reduction of $22.50 or 14% of total returns per planted acres. Herbicide resistance has become a significant financial, production and pest management issue for many cotton and soybean growers, and agriculture as an industry.”
The Short-Term Solution – There’s an App for That
No really, there is an app for your spray operation now. It’s called Drift App. The app organizes seed trait information in your fields and surrounding fields to mitigate spray drift damage each season. It auto-generates a custom Spray Planner “to-do list” that sorts your fields by Sprayability™ Index. The Sprayability™ Index factors in seed trait/herbicide compatibilities in your fields and surrounding fields, current weather conditions, as well as nozzle pressure and size.
The app does the heavy lifting by telling the user when and where to spray while remaining aware of off-target drift. It displays a simulated drift map (calculated by an algorithm, of course), and shows potential off-target drift acres if you were to spray within the current 15-minute window until the next weather update. The Spray Planner can be sorted by nearest distance or Sprayability™, so it keeps your operation running efficiently.
Search “Ditch Drift” in the App Store to download.
The Long-Term Gain – Drift App’s Network Effect Has a Domino Effect
Drift App has a network effect. The more that neighbors use it, the less communication is actually needed between them before spray season. Your neighbor’s traits will automatically appear next to your own field if they are also Drift App subscribers. Eventually, seed trait transparency will mean that you can coordinate trait packages with direct neighbors when placing your orders. With the same seed traits planted adjacent to your fields, you can then spray to the edge of your fields without any concerns of drift damage, while also eradicating the weed escapes where herbicide-resistant weed problems begin.
By using a tool like Drift App, growers and applicators are taking a proactive approach to mitigating spray drift damage each season. Taking advantage of technology in this way helps to stave off regulators from slapping down additional restrictions. This is something we can all benefit from, whether you support dicamba or you support glyphosate.
We have no other choice, but to empower each other to take these appropriate next steps. It’s our only way to a successful future for all U.S. growers, especially those in Illinois, the largest producer of soybean in the USA.