Managing Pesticide Drift

While applying pesticides to crops is inevitable to keep insects, weeds and disease at bay, pesticide drift is not so predictable. Factors like weather conditions, topography, the crop or area being sprayed and pesticide droplet size can all contribute to particles drifting from their target.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that spray drift occurs when pesticide solutions are sprayed and the nozzles of the carrier equipment produce pesticide droplets. Many of these droplets can be so small that they stay suspended in air and are carried by air currents until they contact a surface or drop to the ground.

According to Michelle Wiesbrook, University of Illinois pesticide safety educator, it is important for farmers to form good relationships with their neighbors as both parties can be at risk for a variety of negative effects of pesticide drift.

For farmers, the obvious side effect of pesticide drift is a potential decrease in yield due to crops not getting the full amount of pesticide they require. According to an article, it’s important to implement pesticide drift-reducing practices.

Pesticide Drift-Reducing Practices (
  • Choose equipment and nozzles with the correct droplet spectrum and pressure range.
  • When pesticide labels give a droplet size spectrum, choose the larger droplet size and higher application rate to better stay in target.
  • Keep the spray boom height set only high enough to provide adequate nozzle pattern overlap.
  • Think about updating equipment to include air assist sprayers, electrostatics and automatic rate controllers.
  • Avoid spraying during the heat of the day when evaporation is more likely. Using pesticides that aren’t as volatile will help.
  • Choose low-volatility formulas that have less impact on neighboring crops and the environment. Amine formulations are best.
  • Use additives that reduce droplet size sparingly.
For neighbors of crop farmers who may be concerned about the health of their lawns, gardens and families in regard to pesticide drift, Wiesbrook suggests sharing those concerns with the neighboring farmer.

“If you know ‘what’ will be sprayed ‘when,’ you can plan according by covering your garden with old blankets, making sure the windows are shut or keeping kids out of the yard during that time,” she states.

If you believe that you have been exposed to pesticide spray or dust drift and have health-related questions, you should contact your physician. You can also contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC).

What are your thoughts about pesticide drift? Do you or do you know a farmer who sprays their fields with pesticide? Have you ever been a victim of pesticide drift?

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