Dicamba Incidents Prove Precision Ag۪s Long Road

It’s been a little bit like watching a train wreck in real time. Only lately, somebody pressed the fast-forward button.

The train wreck in reference is what will probably go down in agriculture’s history as the “Dicamba Disaster of 2017.”

It’s not that dicamba doesn’t work on weeds. However, one of dicamba’s unfortunate characteristics is that it is highly volatile, which means it may not end up where it was intended. That’s a problem, especially when the neighbor next door and even the one down the road has just “regular” Roundup beans.

The real-world result caused both plants and producers to be burned by dicamba gone rogue. The growing number of “incidents” has resulted in entire states banning the application of dicamba-related products. Now, producers and custom applicators are back in the same corner and are likely to lose another season to weeds that know no fear.

Sorting It Out. In this day and age of “technology,” how did we as an industry allow this to happen? What could we have done better? Could better practices and technology have prevented such a mess?

Without a doubt, there is going to be a ton of finger-pointing and a boatload of lawsuits before this is all over. The saddest part or the reality of such incidents is that a majority of the responsibility for what happens when dicamba or any chemistry is applied lies with the applicators them-selves. Guilty or not, the buck is likely to stop with them.

As hard as this lesson is to accept, it must be used as a call to action. We must prove that we as an industry can consistently apply even the most restricted crop protection products in a responsible fashion. That will require industry to implement next-generation precision technologies such as real-time, field-based weather delivered to the cab. If conditions are wrong, then the system should either emphatically warn against application or shut it down altogether.

Then, one could point to the fact that it is past time for a better sprayer or, more importantly, better nozzle technologies. One nozzle size and type does not work now that Roundup isn’t the only tool in the chemistry toolbox. Pulse nozzle technologies such as those from John Deere, Raven, Capstan and CNH’s AIM system will likely become much more common due to today’s dynamic environment.

Dreaded Paperwork. The biggest change likely to happen because of these missteps is that the weight of documentation and ensuing regulations is about to get a lot more burdensome. That’s where what actually happens in the field must be what gets reported. Today, records are still too scattered and too much of an afterthought. Quickly documenting products that actually go into the tank could involve scanning products using barcode or RFID technology and transferring the data instantly to the sprayer monitor and the cloud. Plus, applications should be recorded and streamed real-time using wireless CAN bus technologies such as Farmobile and JDLink. 

Bottom line, the technology is here now to do a better spraying job. It just needs to be implemented and integrated. The dicamba incidents just showed that this struggle is far from over and that precision technology still has a way to go.