2022/23: One of worst years for spray drift (New South Wales).

Ag bodies act to minimise spray drift this summer

Grain Central Dec 4 2023

COTTON Australia, Grain Producers Australia and GrainGrowers are urging growers to take appropriate action to avoid a repeat of last year’s devastating spray-drift incidents.

The 2022-23 season saw one of the worst years on record for spray drift with some farmers suffering millions of dollars’ worth of lost production.

Last year in the Macintyre and Balonne regions alone, producers lost considerable amounts to spray drift.

Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay said last year’s impact was widespread, with farmers reporting moderate to severe spray drift incidents on the Darling Downs, in St George district, Dirranbandi, Mungindi, Gwydir, Lower Namoi, Walgett and the Macquarie Valley.

“We need a whole-of agriculture response to minimise the impact of off-target drift,” Mr Kay said.

“It’s not just cotton growers who are suffering extreme hardship when drift from others impacts their crops, but grain growers and other farmers are being hit hard during spray season and there is no one-fix solution.”

The potential for another major spray drift season depends on numerous factors including the practices of growers and contractors applying chemicals and the conditions prevalent of the time of application.

There is the potential for greater damage if spraying occurs under “hazardous inversion” conditions, most commonly occurring at night, when cold air is trapped near the ground and spray droplets can remain suspended in the air for hours and can travel many kilometres beyond the intended target.

Past spray drift events have indicated that some people are not applying in accordance with approved label instructions, or that the label instructions for some products may need review.

Mr Kay said last year Cotton Australia joined forces with other agricultural groups, the Australian Government registration authority and supply regulator of agricultural chemical products, the APVMA and enforcement agencies to highlight best practice and warn about the implications of non-compliance.

“We also called for more boots on the ground, so all stakeholders could see action was being taken to crack down on those doing the wrong thing and support those impacted. I’m pleased to say that the regulators appear to be listening.”

NSW EPA’s executive director regulatory practice and services Steve Beaman said the EPA would not t hesitate to take action against anyone spraying pesticides irresponsibly or deliberately causing harm.

“We’ve got around 15 investigations under way in Griffith, Narromine, Carrathool, Moree, Forbes, Warren and Yallaroi – we’re looking at people who may be operating without a license and others who are spraying in the kind of weather where pesticides are likely to drift and cause damage,” Mr Beaman said.

“The harm is really serious – we’ve seen farmers lose more than a year’s income just from someone spraying recklessly.

“It’s devastating and it’s got to stop.”

Mr Beaman said the EPA was hopeful that with increased education and compliance, this season will be a better one.

“We’re reminding all pesticide users to carefully follow the label instructions for each chemical, store their chemicals safely and keep accurate and up-to-date records of spraying activity for three years.

“There’s so much technology available to tell you what the weather’s doing and when it’s safe to spray. The message is simple – if you’re in any doubt, don’t put it out.”

Grain bodies take action

With summer weed-spraying coming into focus, GPA and GrainGrowers have urged members to brush up on best practice and make use of available resources.

To assist this, GrainGrowers will soon launch a grower-focussed online hub, which seeks to provide growers with up-to-date resources on spray-drift management, including a new video training series.

GrainGrowers CEO Shona Gawel said the grains industry was committed to meeting the challenge and minimising issues by ensuring best practice is always followed.

“The majority of growers take their land-stewardship responsibilities very seriously and follow procedures that allow them to spray weeds effectively and efficiently and in a way that protects the surrounding environment,” Ms Gawel said.

“Knowing what to do, checking your conditions, and considering your neighbours by notifying them of your spray plan are three simple steps to follow.”

Given the spray drift damage earlier this year, both bodies have thrown their support behind a proactive, national approach to stop it from happening again.

GPA southern grower director and RD&E spokesperson Andrew Weidemann said it was critical to manage spray drift properly and be vigilant with application to ensure growers can maintain access to critical on-farm tools that help drive productivity and sustainability.

Mr Weidemann is also the independent chair of the National Working Party on Pesticide Application, established in 2010 to conduct targeted research relating to spray drift and inform the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s policy on spray drift.

He said most growers did the right thing most of the time and followed product labels, but complacency on application was not an option.

“Spray drift is an ongoing challenge for industry, and there have been substantive investments in practice improvement, training and education opportunities and technology to reduce off-target incidents from spray application and improve stewardship, but there are no excuses,” Mr Weidemann said.

GPA northern director Matthew Madden said growers and their representative groups recognised a strong and effective regulatory system was needed to protect the majority of growers who were compliant and did the right thing, but offenders needed to be “weeded out” with penalties.

“We need a system that protects those operating within the rules and penalises those putting other growers at risk, with non-compliant activities.”

GrainGrowers’ online spray drift resource hub will soon be released, and will feature a commissioned video series and links to resources available from GPA, GRDC, and others.

Source: Cotton Australia, NSW EPA, GPA, GrainGrowers