Farmers are getting more precise with spray applications

Andy Fletcher sprays some edible soybeans south of Delaware on Tuesday July 10, 2018. Fletcher, from Belmont says the crops could use more rain and said he was applying a herbicide and manganese for the beans. Mike Hensen/Postmedia Network

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It’s no secret that people are becoming more conscious about where their food comes from. With more public awareness and an increased focus on sustainability, farmers realize that their crop production practices matter to consumers. That’s one reason Dave Van Dam, director of business development at WinField United, says farmers in Canada are starting to consider drift-control agents as part of their crop protection plan. “Farmers are realizing that there are better methods and new technology to help them improve productivity. They’re receptive to new ideas and products that can help them boost their economic returns while limiting environmental impacts on the farm.”
Protecting sensitive crops and investments
Drift-control agents are especially important in Canada due to the variety of crops grown and the wide number of chemistries applied. In western Canada, for example, farmers could be growing grass crops like barley, corn, oats and wheat, or broadleaf crops like canola, lentils, peas and soybeans, with many rotation possibilities. That diversity of crops increases the risk of potential herbicide damage by a neighboring spray application. Drift-control agents, including InterLock by WinField United, are formulated to optimize spray droplet size so more active ingredient reaches its intended target. That’s important to reduce herbicide drift, but it also protects a farmer’s herbicide investment. “Spray patterns naturally have variable droplet sizes, but an ideal spray pattern should consist of mostly medium-sized droplets that fall onto their intended target and don’t bounce off. Very small droplets are prone to off-target drift and evaporation, and really large droplets often bounce off leaves and end up on the ground,” explains Van Dam. “If 20 to 30 percent of your herbicide is going through the sprayer and not hitting the intended target, then you’ve lost 20 to 30 percent of the value in your investment. InterLock helps protect your investment by creating a spray pattern with more optimal-size droplets that hit the intended target.”
Sarah Anderson, a senior agronomist with G-Mac’s AgTeam in Saskatchewan, says the value proposition of drift-control agents for farmers is getting more active ingredient on-target. “Greater herbicide coverage is going to be necessary for optimal performance, especially for contact products. Adding a drift-control agent like InterLock just increases the chance that the active ingredient that is put into the tank is going to land where it should.”
Since effective weed control is a result of good herbicide coverage, it makes sense that drift-control agents also help in the battle against herbicide-resistant weeds. Jason Morrow, location manager and business agronomist at Double Diamond Farm Supply in Manitoba, says that’s just an added benefit of products like InterLock. “When farmers get the right amount of herbicide active ingredient onto the plant, they’re going to get better weed control. If they’re losing some of that herbicide to drift or because small spray droplets evaporate prior to plant uptake, they’ll probably see more weed escapes. In some cases, lack of good spray coverage means weeds might be damaged by the herbicide but not completely killed. Those types of situations promote the development of herbicide-resistant weed populations.”
Market challenges
While interest in adjuvants, including drift-control agents, has been growing in Canada in recent years, the market is still relatively small compared to the United States. Part of the reason is because of regulatory differences between the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) in Canada.
The PMRA has two very distinct categories for adjuvants, depending on whether a product is considered an activator or a utility modifier. Activator adjuvants, such as surfactants and oils, must be registered with specific pesticide tank-mix partners. Utility modifier adjuvants are products that are added to the spray tank to enhance the spray solution and are not registered with specific tank-mix partners. Examples include drift-control agents, anti-foam agents and water conditioners. Depending on the product class of an adjuvant, the regulations guiding those spray applications could be very different.
Relaunching InterLock in Canada
InterLock has been available in the U.S. since 2001 and has been applied on more than a billion acres during that time. Van Dam feels that its longstanding consistent performance is having an influence on Canadian farmers. “We feel very confident bringing InterLock to western Canada because of the long-term success it’s had in the United States. We wouldn’t have seen this volume of acres covered in the U.S. if it didn’t bring a value proposition to farmers.”
And although it’s been available for 10 years in eastern Canada, InterLock has just started gaining more momentum in western parts of the country over the past couple of years.
Anderson began trialing InterLock with customers in 2017 and says initial results have been positive. “Sometimes the InterLock effect has been subtle, but we do have some examples where that visual effect is so apparent you can see it show up in the crop canopy or even in the spray pattern as it’s leaving the boom. When farmers are able to see that difference, it gets them pretty excited about the product.”
Anderson adds that drift-control agents are more present in the market today than when she started her career. “Every season we’re getting more questions about what benefit a drift-control agent could bring to a farm. Slowly but surely they’re gaining popularity here.”
Morrow has also seen the demand for drift-control agents increase. “We basically went from having no acres of InterLock sprayed to having 72,000 acres in two years. I think everybody who has used it has come back for more. Farmers are happy with what they’re seeing, and we are too.” He says there have even been instances where farmers had planned on doing a two-pass herbicide application, but by adding InterLock to their tank mix they achieved such effective weed control that they were able to eliminate a second application.
“Farmers who are considering InterLock may question adding another input cost, but I think once they’ve tried it, they’re able to see the value,” says Morrow. He explains that the cost of adding InterLock to the tank is relatively small compared with the cost of applying most crop-protection products. “If farmers are spending anywhere from 10 to 30 dollars an acre on a product, they want to get the benefit from using all of that product. They don’t want to see their investment drifting off-target.”
No silver bullet
It’s clear that drift-control agents, including InterLock, help optimize spray applications. But Anderson says farmers shouldn’t expect them to be a silver bullet. “InterLock, or any drift-control agent, is not going to turn the wrong tank-mix partner into magic or allow growers to spray in unfavorable weather conditions that they normally shouldn’t be spraying in. But what I am hopeful InterLock might do is turn good agronomic practices into even better ones.”
Van Dam agrees that drift-control agents don’t negate the need for good management practices. “Adjuvants should not be considered a solution on their own. Farmers need to make sure they’re using the right chemistry on the right pest. They should also be examining water quality and water volume, and choosing appropriate nozzles for their application. Start with those basic good spray-management practices, and then focus on how an adjuvant can help optimize the spray application.”