WASHINGTON, June 29, 2016 - On-farm technology is advancing faster than many lawmakers and regulators acknowledge. However, trade groups and some agribusinesses are trying to improve on that situation by taking regulators to the field.
About 30 officials from EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs got to see the latest in spray drift reduction technology at a Field Day earlier this month sponsored by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and Agricultural Retailers Association.
Held at the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown, the event featured demonstrations of a variety of technologies designed to reduce pesticide drift.
The goal was to familiarize EPA staff with the full range of options available to growers. The agency issued a protocol for testing of spray equipment two years ago, but AEM is concerned that the agency’s program is not broad enough.
“Their vision of Drift Reduction Technology (DRT) is way too small, way too narrow,” said Nick Tindall, AEM’s senior director of government and industry relations. “It’s far too focused on just (spray) nozzles.”
The voluntary DRT program envisions rating different technologies using a four-star system – one star for drift reduction between 25 percent and 49 percent; two stars for 50-74 percent reduction; three for 75-89 percent reduction; and four for a reduction of drift of 90 percent and higher.
“EPA expects the use of verified (drift reduction technologies) to significantly reduce pesticide spray drift and loss from the application site, thereby keeping more of the applied pesticide on the treated field and reducing risks to the surrounding environment, nearby humans, and property, including crops,” the protocol says. “Pesticide products labeled for use with DRTs may also increase applicators’ flexibility in applying those pesticides by reducing the need for more restrictive application measures as compared to those required for the use of standard application equipment.”
When it announced the voluntary program in October 2014, EPA estimated that about 70 million pounds of pesticides worth up to $640 million are lost annually to drift. “And, state agencies use substantial resources each year investigating drift complaints,” the agency said.
The idea behind the EPA program, said Tindall, is “the higher the star rating, the fewer use restrictions” on the pesticide being applied. One concrete benefit could be smaller application buffers, which would mean more of a crop gets treated.
EPA’s drift control models, however, “don’t account for the multi-dimensional world of spray drift control,” Tindall said. For example, “You’ve got a three-star nozzle on there, but how do you quantify (drift) when you’re using that in conjunction with section control, auto-steer, pulsing technology, or boom height control. Those are factors that need to be taken into account in these drift models because that’s the technology that’s out there to control drift.”
Section control refers to technology that automatically shuts off nozzles on sections of the boom as they pass over previously treated areas, which results in savings in chemical costs. Pulse technology, which controls how long the nozzles remain open, allows for uniform application even when ground speed is variable.
So far, however, EPA has yet to rate any equipment.
Tindall said “a couple of nozzles” have been submitted, but because of the limited scope of the testing protocol, “I haven’t really heard rumblings from my member companies.”
He said he’s hopeful that the Field Day will result in a better working relationship between EPA and AEM. “We educated a lot of key people at EPA about this technology,” he said. Tindall wants to see EPA staff working with technical experts from the equipment industry to develop standards that take into account the full range of drift reduction technologies.
Companies at the Field Day included John Deere, AGCO, Case IH, GVM, TeeJet and Hardi. The National Agricultural Aviation Association was also there, with Helicopter Applicators Inc. demonstrating aerial application technology.
“We had good interactions with the EPA and state pesticide officials who attended,” said Connor Bergin, AGCO marketing manager. “They are educated and informed about the issues and asked high-level questions about application rates, nozzles and other technologies we’ve implemented on our application equipment.”
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