I wrote last week about some of the herbicide drift problems I have observed so far this year. This is a problem the entire agricultural industry must address. Glyphosate is not the only herbicide that can cause drift problems, but it is the herbicide depended on most.
Even in rice where it cannot be used in-crop, a lot of glyphosate is used for burn-down purposes.
Most drift problems I see (primarily on rice) are from glyphosate. We have had a lot of problems on seedling rice already. A lot of this year's soybean crop is being planted late, which means glyphosate will be applied when rice is in the reproductive growth stages.
When glyphosate gets on seedling rice, the plants that are not killed have a good chance to recover. Nursing the crop back to health often requires extra flushing, fertilizer inputs and labor.
When glyphosate gets on rice in the reproductive growth stages, the results are often disastrous. Complete blanking of the heads can occur and often the farmer does not know it has happened until harvest. This is a complex issue that the entire industry must address. From my perspective, it is one that is continuing to get worse.
As I wrote last week, perhaps we do not have the best formulations of glyphosate available. We obviously have the cheapest formulations available. A lot of applicators are convinced that current formulations are more drift-prone than some previous formulations.
When I was still with the University of Arkansas, Monsanto was called to some Plant Board hearings, and I recall promising to do some wind tunnel, greenhouse, environmental chamber-type studies to evaluate deposition and off-target movement potential from different formulations. If these were done, I know of nobody who has seen the results.
What is going to happen if the problem gets bad enough that the insurance companies who underwrite the applicators refuse to write glyphosate? I don't know that it will happen, but I do know they sure do not like me. I would bet this would cause the manufacturers to step up.
The applicators are going to have to step up, too. I am hearing a lot of talk from farmers who want an aerial application ban between certain dates. Who knows, this may have to be tried.
However, I always say about regulations, “Be careful what you ask for because if you get it then you have to live with it.” I knew my drift calls were going to increase when I watched ground sprayers operating in extremely high winds. I see drift problems that were simply honest mistakes. I see others from both air and ground applications where I think, “What were they thinking when they did that?”
A big part of the issue is going to have to be solved by farmer-to-farmer stewardship. Farmers are simply going to have to work more closely together in the planting and spraying of their crops. This applies to all herbicides. When a farmer puts his entire livelihood into a crop, it is the most important crop around. However, it cannot be sprayed with blatant disregard for the neighboring crops. Likewise, there could be much better cooperation in a lot of cases for getting neighboring fields in a same rotation.
I do not claim to have all the answers, but regulating one segment of the industry is likely not the answer. The problem will ultimately be solved by the manufacturers, aerial and ground applicators, including private ground applicators, farmers and regulatory agencies all stepping up. That needs to happen pretty fast.
Ford Baldwin, Practical Weed Consultants. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.