By now you have probably heard that the University of Arkansas, the Arkansas State Plant Board and FMC Corporation are expanding the research project, begun last year, to study the feasibility of applying Command to rice by aircraft.

Details of the project have been mailed by the Plant Board to all rice farmers holding a private applicator's license and to all aerial applicators in the state. The mail-outs give explicit instructions on what is required by farmers and aerial applicators who wish to participate. Therefore, rather than discuss those details, I will attempt an overview of the project.

The project will be conducted in a defined area and this has created some controversy. Believe me, those of us in the public sector do not like anything in a defined area, as it creates the perception of “haves and have nots.” Hopefully, however, if everyone attempts to understand what we are doing, the project will benefit everyone in Arkansas in the future.

Some have viewed the project as an “air label” for a defined area where nobody else can use it. While in some ways it is, it is much more restrictive than that.

The defined area covers most of Arkansas, Lonoke, Prairie and White counties. It has very defined borders and those have been sent out by the Plant Board.

There are specific things a farmer has to do to enroll a field in the program and certain things an aerial applicator must do to participate.

The Plant Board is pulling in a large number of inspectors to witness as many of the applications as possible. This will allow us to observe the behavior of the sprayed material coming out of the aircraft and then be able to correlate that to later observations on vegetation around the fields.

We discussed a lot of different ways to try to give as many people the chance to participate as possible but still limit the treated acreage to 50,000 to 100,000 acres. We wanted to see the product go out with as many types of aircraft as possible, but yet be able to observe as many of the applications as possible.

Some applicators and growers would like to have seen the boundaries drawn differently. However, we did the best we could with what we had to work with.

Several of us in the University of Arkansas, the Plant Board and FMC are sticking out necks out a long way to conduct this project.

We treated around 80 percent of the rice acreage with Command last year with ground rigs. Therefore, it would be easy to be comfortable and say, “Let's just hold what we have.”

However, being able to apply Command by air would have some advantages for a lot of growers.

Our ultimate customer is the farmer and we are willing to pursue anything within reason to help.

At the same time, agriculture cannot afford another black eye by going out and turning the countryside white. I am finally convinced that a lot of fields can be treated with Command by air with no problem. In fact, it can turn out to cause fewer problems than some products we are currently using.

On the other hand, there are fields where you have no business attempting it. Hopefully all of the farmers and applicators participating in the program will recognize those situations.

I am not worried about drift to off-target crops. The key will be keeping it off of homeowners' vegetation.

Our goal with this project is to treat as many acres as practical within this area. If we determine things are getting out of hand, the project will be shut down immediately. If it goes smoothly, we would hope to make a decision at the end to either pursue a statewide aerial label for Command or terminate the project.

I am convinced it can be done. However, can be and will be are often two different things.

We have stuck our necks out and placed the ball in the hands of the participating growers and aerial applicators. It will be up to you to prove that Command can safely be applied by air to rice.


Ford Baldwin is an Arkansas Extension weed scientist. e-mail: fbaldwin@uaex.edu