A voluntary online specialty crop registry program called DriftWatch, will now be organized by the new non-profit FieldWatch, with hopes of creating a national, voluntary program to protect high-value, pesticide sensitive crops from spray drift.
Originally created by Purdue University Agriculture and Biological Engineering in 2008, DriftWatch is currently used by nine states, primarily in the Midwest.
To support the program's growth outside of Indiana, Purdue collaborated in December with other agricultural stakeholder groups to create a non-profit corporation, FieldWatch Inc.
The new company, which is located off-campus at the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Ind., assumed the operational responsibilities of DriftWatch. That includes directing the transition of the website and database from the Purdue IT environment to a secure private IT provider, while also developing a national software platform from which to grow the DriftWatch program.
"Our vision is to become a nationally recognized specialty crop registry for producers, applicators and other key stakeholders across the country by being able to easily identify where sensitive sites are located as they conduct their other product stewardship activities," said Reid Sprenkel, President/CEO of FieldWatch.
The goal of the registry is to allow both farmers and applicators to identify, map and communicate where high-value pesticide-sensitive crops are being grown.
According to Sprenkel, DriftWatch allows producers of high-value specialty crops, such as tomatoes, fruit trees, grapes and vegetables, to register their sites on-line and provide contact information about their operations. Likewise, pesticide applicators use the site to help determine the scope and location of specialty crops in their trade areas.
Jean Payne, of the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, said DriftWatch served as an alternative to costly regulation. In 2010, the State Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on spray drift in the state. Legislators originally considered requiring pesticide applicators to notify the government before using applications, which would have placed additional regulatory responsibility on applicators and government officials.
However, after working with the industry, Illinois State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, introduced a Senate resolution encouraging the adoption of the DriftWatch registry for Illinois, stating that the system would help organic and specialty-crop farmers protect their crops from chemical drift "without placing an undue burden on anyone."
"I encourage all organic and specialty-crop farmers to register with this website and to make every effort to keep their information current and accurate," Koehler said when Illinois adopted the use of the registry. "We have a great opportunity to minimize crop damage from chemical drift, but only if everyone actively participates."
"DriftWatch served as an alternative to regulation that would not have been beneficial to either party and would have been costly to the state and agriculture," Payne said.
Payne said DriftWatch provides specialty crop producers and pesticide applicators a pathway to communication. The use of DriftWatch "really was the reasonable alternative and probably more effective," Payne said, because a "pre-notify" regulation would not have allowed producers to communication with neighbors.
In Illinois, the number of organic acres registered on the site grew from 2,200 in 2011 to 4,200 in 2012, Payne said. She added that FieldWatch will be able to bring more consistent data quality across the states and maintain updated technology.
"Spray drift continues to be a threat to our producers each year, but DriftWatch has been very constructive in reducing the number and severity of instances," said Steve Smith of Red Gold, a member of FieldWatch's Board of Directors.
"With Reid's leadership and the cooperation of everyone on the board, I'm extremely happy that the move to FieldWatch will allow us to expand our program even further."