When applying herbicides, the aim is to maximise the amount reaching the target and to minimise the amount reaching off-target areas. This results in:
In areas where a range of agricultural enterprises coexist, conflicts can arise, particularly from the use of pesticides. All pesticides are capable of drift.
When spraying a pesticide, you have a moral and legal responsibility to prevent it from drifting and contaminating or damaging neighbours' crops and sensitive areas.
Under the Records Regulation of the Pesticides Act 1999, when spraying you must record the weather and relevant spray details. Wand inversion tower network.
Sprayed herbicides can drift as droplets, as vapours, as particles, or all of these.
Droplet drift is the easiest to control because under good spraying conditions, droplets are carried down by air turbulence and gravity, to collect on plant or soil surfaces. Droplet drift is the most common cause of off-target damage caused by herbicide application. For example, spraying fallows with glyphosate under the wrong conditions often leads to severe damage to neighbouring establishing crops.
Particle drift occurs when water and other herbicide carriers evaporate quickly from the droplet leaving tiny particles of concentrated herbicide. This is most common when spraying under hot conditions and can occur with any herbicide formulations. Instances of this form of drift have damaged susceptible crops up to 30 km from the source.
Vapour drift most commonly occurs with volatile herbicides such as 2,4-D ester and dicamba, but to a lesser extent, may occur with a range of other herbicides. Vapours may arise directly from the spray or from evaporation of herbicide from sprayed surfaces. Use of volatile broadleaf herbicides in summer can lead to vapour drift damage of susceptible crops such as tomatoes, cotton, sunflowers, soybeans and grapes. This may occur hours or even days after the herbicide is applied and is especially significant under surface inversion events
Vapours and minute particles float in the airstream and are poorly collected on plant or soil surfaces. They may be carried for many kilometres in thermal updraughts before being deposited.
Sensitive crops may be up to 10,000 times more sensitive than the crop being sprayed. Even small quantities of drifting herbicide can cause severe damage to highly sensitive plants.
Any herbicide can drift. The drift hazard, or off-target potential, of a herbicide in a particular situation depends on the following factors.
Many ester formulations are highly volatile when compared with amine formulations, sodium salt and acid formulations. Nevertheless, all herbicides can drift and many have some degree of volatility.
A significant part of minimising spray drift is the selection of equipment to reduce the number of small droplets produced. However, this in turn may affect coverage of the target, and therefore the possible effectiveness of the pesticide application.
This aspect of spraying needs to be carefully considered when planning to spray. As the number of smaller droplets decreases, so does the coverage of the spray.
A good example of this is the use of air-induction nozzles that produce large droplets that splatter. These nozzles produce a droplet pattern and number that at low water rates, is unsuitable for targets such as seedling grasses that present a small vertical target. However, issues of poor coverage with these nozzles can be addressed by increasing the water rate.
In 2010, the Australian Pesticides and Veterninary Medicines Authority (APVMA) announced new measures to ensure the number of spray drift incidents are minimised. The changes are restrictions on the droplet size spectrum an applicator can use, wind speed suitable for spraying and the downwind buffer zone between spraying and a sensitive target.
When large areas are treated, relatively large amounts of the active herbicides are applied and the risk of off-target damage increases due to the length of time taken to apply the herbicide and the total amount of herbicide applied. Conditions such as temperature, humidity and wind direction are likely to change during spraying.
Applying volatile formulations to large areas increases the chances of vapour drift damage to susceptible crops and pastures. Products such as 2,4-D amine, that have relatively low volatility, can become problematic when applied over large areas in the landscape as commonly occurs when herbicides are applied to fallows following widespread summer rainfall. Small amounts of herbicide vapour from a large number of applications made within a small-time space can result in a high environmental loading within a river valley leading to widespread damage to sensitive crops.
Spray operators need to consider not only the potential drift from their own applications, but the environmental loading from the combined applications of their local area.
Targets vary in their ability to collect or capture spray droplets. Tall, well grown, leafy crops are efficient collectors of droplets. Turbulent airflow normally carries spray droplets down into the crop within a very short distance.
Bare fallow paddocks or seedling crops have poor catching surfaces. Drift hazard is far greater when applying herbicide in these situations or adjacent to these poor capture surfaces.
The type of catching surface between the sprayed area and susceptible crops should always be considered in conjunction with the characteristics of the target area when assessing drift hazard.
The most hazardous condition for herbicide spray drift is an atmospheric inversion, especially when combined with high humidity. Do not spray under inversion conditions.
An inversion exists when temperature increases with altitude instead of decreasing. An inversion is like a cold blanket of air above the ground, usually less than 50 m thick. Air will not rise above this blanket; and smoke or fine spray droplets and particles of spray deposited within an inversion will float until the inversion breaks down.
Inversions usually occur on clear, calm mornings and nights. To start spraying the sun should be higher than 20 degrees above the horizon, with a light wind. Windy or turbulent conditions prevent inversion formation. Blankets of fog, dust or smoke and the tendency for sounds and smells to carry long distances indicate inversion conditions.
Smoke generators or smoky fires can be used to detect inversion conditions. Smoke will not continue to rise but will drift along at a constant height under the inversion 'blanket'.
Tocal College has face-to-face and online courses for growers, sprayers and agronomists/advisors to increase skills in spray planning and overall chemical application management.
Original publication produced by Andrew Storrie, former NSW DPI Weeds Agronomist. Revised Graham Charles Australian Cotton Research Institute and Eric Koetz Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute.