Robert Wolf shines a light at a spray table showing the droplet size from different nozzle types.
Robert Wolf shines a light at a spray table showing the droplet size from different nozzle types.

The development of an educational program for farmers to be trained and educated about properly applying their crop protection products was announced by Robert Wolf, Ph.D., Kansas State University professor emeritus and owner of Wolf Consulting and Research, in conjunction with BASF and TeeJet Technologies.

Wolf made the announcement during Commodity Classic, which appropriately is one of the largest gathering of farmers in the nation. What Wolf said he and the companies learned in a 2011 farmer survey might have ag retailers and custom applicators agreeing some results and disagreeing with others.

“The On-Target Application Academy will educate on new application technologies, advancements in product chemistries and any other new developments in application equipment as they come along,” Wolf said.

“The basic thing we are interested in doing is to get the growers into the frame of mind that they can put their product on target and at the same time control weeds that have become herbicide resistant,” he explained.

As preparation for developing the educational program, a survey that resulted in about 1,000 farmer responses was conducted and a roundtable with several large farmers was held.

Wolf said the survey found “that growers are applying about 80 percent of their herbicides by themselves with their own equipment.” In looking at the custom application service being provided by almost every ag retailer in the nation, that 80 percent number seems quite high.

Of the farmer respondents, approximately 50 percent of them “emphasized drift was their number one challenge” and they could use assistance in knowing how to put products in the field without drift. This amount of concern appears a little low, or should be higher, if farmers realized the focus that the Environmental Protection Agency is placing on establishing goals of no drift.

And Wolf said the overall results of the survey showed that growers are concerned about how to apply products since they now have to do something other than just spray glyphosate herbicide. The farmers admit that they need education and training about applying various products and the appropriate equipment to use.

It has been a contention of custom applicators that most farmers are not up to the task of knowing exactly how to apply every product that they might decide to use. They have to rely on someone to give them guidance. Stewardship of the product lands as much on the ag retailer as the product manufacturer with blame for a grower’s improper self application being thrown back at the retailer’s feet.

Wolf said, “One of the things they (farmers) emphasized in the survey is that weed management programs are becoming very complex components of their production process.”

Wolf suggested that the state certification programs for farmer applicators might not be up to speed to today’s quickly changing products and technology. Custom applicators in some states must complete more training than farmers, which has been a bone of contention is those states, especially if environmental stewardship is really a goal of regulators.

“Over a third of the growers responding indicated they would be highly interested in some type of an educational program that would bring better information to them so that they could have a better feel on best practices for herbicide application—the nozzles and the spray equipment decisions they need to make, the recommendations they need to follow,” Wolf said.

“What we need to do in the future is to bring latest research to the growers so that they can understand better through hands-on work and instruction how to have a better weed control management program and at the same time reduce the drift potential,” he continued.

To provide meat for the application academy programs, Wolf has been doing research on combinations of dicamba and glyphosate mixes and other product mixes to determine if there are differences that occur with active ingredient sprayer application compared to water. He has been evaluating drift control agents, surfactants and nozzles. He said most previous research has been done with water, and studies have not been done in a wind tunnel like he is using with active ingredient mixes.

The On-Target Application Academies will be at least two hours long and the schedule for this summer is being established—some in conjunction with other agricultural events.