By mid-June many of the drift-damaged fields in south Arkansas should have been replanted. The rest, hopefully, “will be well on their way to recovery. Around here, we've already had some replanting,” said Carl Hayden, Chicot County Extension agent earlier in the month.
As predicted by many, following several weeks of wet weather and high winds, drift damage is showing up across Arkansas.
Speaking not as an official from the Arkansas Plant Board (where he serves as chairman) but as a long-time aerial applicator, George Tidwell said wind “definitely has been a factor in this. There have been some poor decisions made to spray. It's been a terrible year — the farmers are under pressure to protect their crops, the applicators their business. No doubt, some folks took a chance in the wind — sometimes they got away with it. Obviously, sometimes they didn't.
“This is not only an applicator problem. I believe it is also a glyphosate-manufacturer's problem. With (previous formulations), we did not have this type of drift problem.”
Tidwell suspects that during the coming off-season plenty of drift complaints will be addressed by the Plant Board.
First thing the morning of June 7, Ford Baldwin was in a northeast Arkansas field looking at drift damage. “Yeah, we've got some bad drift problems,” said the weed scientist and consultant. “Glyphosate and Newpath have torn us up — just about every phone call I take is dealing with those two. Truth is, I've been looking at as much Newpath drift as glyphosate. Who's going to pay for drift damage and keep doing it? We could be in for some contentious winter meetings.”
Two or three weeks of high winds when the crops needed spraying led Baldwin to believe what happened was inevitable. “You know, I understand the desire to spray in those high winds which never seemed to end. I'm in the worst shape for spraying in my research plots that I've ever been. It's been a tough year to get anything done timely.”
Everyone is asking Baldwin what the answer is. “I don't know the answer,” he said. All the options on the table are unpalatable to one part of ag business or another.
“People who are screaming about banning spraying by air should know that all that will do is push spraying to ground rigs. There is no good answer,” he said.
Back in south Arkansas, Hayden said the drift problem is especially acute along the edge of neighboring Ashley County. Chicot County (in the southeastern corner of the state) had been hit with drift troubles, too, though. The drift trouble seems to run in a line from Portland north past Jerome.
“We have quite a bit of rice with Roundup drift damage — at least a few hundred acres,” said Hayden. “We do have some upset farmers. The problem with much of this is it will be difficult to determine where the damage came from. There is a lot of Roundup put out everywhere — everyone uses it. That means it's often hard to trace the damage to its source.”
As the winds calmed, aerial applicators were able to get back in the air. Depending on how much horsepower they had, most operations took only a few days of hard flying to catch up with applications.
“The rough patch — except for the drift complaints — seems to be over with,” said Mark Hartz, owner and operator of Grand Prairie Dusters. “We're moving into midseason applications of Grandstand, 2,4-D and fertilizer.”
With yet more drift reports, Hartz said the issue aerial applicators are focusing on is insurance. “This a real problem for us. A company might quit writing the insurance or, depending on an individual applicator's loss history, deny coverage outright. You're going to need a clean record to keep your insurance — which is costing more and more. This is a major concern.”
Tidwell, too, said aerial applicators are increasingly being saddled with heavy premiums.
“After this year, I don't know what we'll face in terms of insurance,” said Tidwell. “I know that in the past the companies have had trouble writing coverage for drift. And if they did write it, they charged a tremendous premium.”
For Tidwell, insurance costs have gone up almost three times what they were three or four years ago. “I've been told that my payment, which doesn't come due until August, will again jump up 10 to 15 percent. The more drift complaints, the higher the premiums. That's safe to say.”