Recently, pesticide spray drift from different pesticide applications caused damage to field corn on a bordering farm, vegetables in an adjacent backyard, trees and bushes in a nearby state park and vegetation on an adjoining campus. In all cases, the applicators were fined because they had not taken the necessary precautions to avoid drift.

Pesticide spray drift is the physical movement of spray droplets from the intended target to any non-target site. Drift is not just about crop injury; it can negatively affect workers, organic crops, the general public, beehives, gardens, aquatic areas and other sensitive habitats, even if the effects are not immediate or obvious.

Pesticide labels vary with regard to information on spray drift management. Some labels provide a detailed list of required drift management techniques. Labels may specify a maximum wind speed in which to spray, or simply indicate not to apply under windy conditions. Labels may also require an “adequate” or specific size buffer zone between the target site and sensitive sites, such as areas occupied by humans, animals or susceptible vegetation.

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“No portion of the label stands alone – it is critical that spray drift-specific requirements be considered concurrently with all other label requirements,” notes Don Renchie, Ph.D., Pesticide Safety Education Program Coordinator, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “For example, the agricultural label requirement to protect workers will override any maximum wind speed allowed on the label if workers are in close proximity downwind of a planned application.”

Research, education and debate continue on how best to avoid spray drift. A growing number of registries in certain states enable applicators to determine the location of sensitive crops in close proximity to their planned treatments. Application technology and buffer size calculations are also becoming more sophisticated, but ultimately it is the applicator who must take every necessary precaution.