Experts see the rising problems growers face with weed control, and technology solutions will be important.
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You don’t have to search for long to find experts explaining the problems growers are facing nationwide with herbicide-resistant weeds.
Though clearly not new to agriculture, chemical sprayers are key tools that help keep weeds in check; and advances in sprayer technology have certainly improved the delivery and application of various crop protection formulas. However, despite advancements in this technology, errors can still occur — errors that can negatively impact a grower’s bottom line if not addressed.
“The most important issue for farmers today is drift onto other fields,” says Erdal Ozkan, a professor and Extension specialist in sprayer technology at Ohio State University.
Ozkan says drift has always been an issue, but given the number (and potency) of herbicides and pesticides on the market today, growers cannot afford to let this happen.
“The best technology we have to address drift is low-drift nozzles, which have been developed over the last 10 years,” explains Ozkan. “They work well compared to what we used to use and have been accepted in the field.”
Despite the benefits of low-drift nozzles and his belief that nozzle technology should be the “first priority to improve accuracy and efficiency,” Ozkan says we have a “long way to go” before all applicators use this technology.
He also cites travel speed and boom height adjustments, rate controllers, and the use of retardants to reduce the formation of fine droplets as examples of other techniques to address accuracy issues, but warns that using low-drift nozzles and chemical retardants together could be overkill in some cases.
Calibration is another area where Ozkan believes applicators make frequent mistakes, thus hurting accuracy and, in turn, their bottom line.
“You need to make sure things are properly calibrated to the specific conditions of the field. This includes checking nozzles for wear to make sure the flow rate is acceptable,” says Ozkan, adding that even something as simple as not having tires properly inflated could negatively impact application.
Looking ahead, Ozkan believes the utilization (and pairing) of two existing technologies could have a major impact on not only sprayer efficiency, but also overall chemical use.
“We’re making great strides toward reducing pesticide and herbicide consumption by merging GPS and image detection technologies,” explains Ozkan, who says the decrease in chemicals by using these technologies would result in more profit, as well as a positive impact on the environment.
According to Ozkan, these technologies aren’t new, but their use in agriculture hasn’t been widely accepted — in part, because it requires growers to take the time to map problem areas in each field and record specific waypoints using GPS. This data is what triggers the sprayer to turn itself on and off using special sensors and nozzles.
No matter the technology used, Ozkan stresses the overall importance of following good application processes. “The better job we do with the efficiency of application, the less chance we have of weeds becoming more resistant,” he says.
Yountz writes from Urbandale, Iowa