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Causes and Treatment of Pesticide Drift

Applying pesticides to crops is inevitable to keep insects, weeds and disease at bay.  But pesticide drift is not so predictable, as factors like temperature, wind conditions and pesticide droplet size can all contribute to particles drifting from their target. And if you think chemical drift will only affect your crop yield, you are wrong.  

Both pesticide applicators and their neighbors are at risk for a slew of negative effects of pesticide drift. According to Michelle Wiesbrook, University of Illinois pesticide safety educator, this is the most important time of year to form good relationships with your neighbor.   

Whether you are an applicator, a grower or a neighbor of either, the UI Extension Department of Agriculture suggests thinking about pesticide drift from the other’s viewpoint.  

“Growers don’t want their pesticide products to land on your plants any more than you do,” Wiesbrook says.  

For more information on pesticide drift:

Risks to Pesticide Applicators  

As an applicator, the obvious side effect of pesticide drift is a potential decrease in yield due to your crop not getting the full amount of pesticide it requires. But a secondary risk has a more blatant price tag: some instances of pesticide drift that severely damage neighbor’s property can be legally filed. Penalties for a violation of pesticide application range from warning letters to monetary fines of $750 to $10,000, higher insurance premiums, a damaged reputation in the business and revocation of the applicator’s license.

Pesticide drift has the potential of environmental consequences that should be of concern to applicators and growers of all crops. For example, plants that have been unintentionally exposed to an insecticide yet rely on bees for pollination, can have disastrous results for both bees and plants, according to the UI Department of Agriculture’s website. If pesticide residue and human exposure due to pesticide drift is an increasing problem, the EPA may choose to limit or eliminate that pesticide’s registration. Careless pesticide applicators can lose useful pest control tools for the entire agriculture industry.

 Drift-Reducing Practices

  • Choose equipment and nozzles with the correct droplet spectrum and pressure range.
  • When pesticide labels give a droplet size spectrum, choose the larger droplet size and higher application rate to better stay in your target.
  • Keep the spray boom height set only high enough to provide adequate nozzle pattern overlap.
  • Avoid applications in winds over 10 mph and windless days. However, this isn’t always possible, so consider wind direction and distance of neighboring areas as well.
  • Avoid spraying during the heat of the day when evaporation is more likely. Using pesticides that aren’t as volatile will help.
  • Choose low-volatility formulas that have less impact on neighboring crops and the environment. 
  • Use additives that reduce droplet size sparingly.

Risks to neighbors of pesticide applicators

Perhaps specialty growers have the most to lose with pesticide drift. Products like fruit and flowers in which appearance is important can have entire crops wiped out from small amounts of pesticides. 

Similarly, organic crops have a large investment in attaining certification by keeping their fields pesticide-free for a consecutive three years. While the presence of pesticide residue alone doesn’t automatically void the grower’s organic certification, any carry-over damage to the next growing season could. This is especially true for organic livestock being fed silage containing pesticide residue.  

Neighbors of crop producers have lawns, gardens and their families to keep protected from pesticide drift. “If you are concerned about the health of your plants or that of your family, share your concerns [with neighbor producers],” Wiesbrook said.  “If you know ‘what’ will be sprayed ‘when,’ you can plan accordingly by covering your garden with old blankets, making sure the windows are shut, or keeping the kids out of the yard during that time.”  

What to do if you suspect pesticide drift  

If you suspect your plants are chemically injured, first compare them with another plant database like the UI’s herbicide injury website. General symptoms of pesticide injury include stunted plants, leaf discoloration, spotting, twisting and slow plant death.   

Will your plants die? “That is the million-dollar question,” Wiesbrook said. The type and amount of chemical your plant was subjected to, as well as the time of year and growth stage, all influence the resiliency of your plants.  

Wiesbrook suggests talking to your neighbors about the timing of pesticide application with decline in health of your plants, weather conditions at the time they applied and so forth. Filing a complaint with your local Department of Agriculture should be the last resort if an applicator is not willing to reimburse your losses.

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