An innovative new aerial spray system now in use in south central Texas has been shown to help rice growers save as much as 25 percent on a single rice herbicide application.

For the past two seasons, Speck Thornton, an aerial applicator in El Campo, Texas, has used a new electrostatic spray system mounted on an Air Tractor 402 to apply herbicides, insecticides and defoliants on more than 100,000 acres of rice and cotton. In addition to reducing his application costs by as much as half, the system has also allowed him to reduce the a.i. rates of rice herbicides by as much as 25 percent, with weed control equal to that achieved with full label rates.

Developed by USDA-ARS engineers at College Station, Texas, the electrostatic spray system is designed to impart an electrical charge to each spray droplet through specially designed nozzles. Because the high pressure, low volume system allows aerial applicators to reduce the volume of water in their spray solution by one-half to two thirds, applicators like Thornton can spray two to three times more acres with each tank-load of solution.

Thornton, who now offers an application discount to rice growers who agree to let him use the new system, says the electrostatic system has resulted in weed and disease control, and cotton defoliation, that is at least equal to, and in some cases better than, that achieved with a conventional spray system.

With the approval of his customers, Thornton has also tried reducing the a.i. rates of herbicides and insecticides through the system. In one case, he reduced the recommended a.i. rate in a tank-mix of rice herbicides by 25 percent, achieving excellent weed control while saving his customers $10 per acre in chemical costs.

Blake Dobbins, director of the Biophysics Research Institute, a not-for-profit organization established to develop and evaluate new application technology that can reduce pesticide usage and lessen the environmental impact of pesticides on the environment, believes the electrostatic spray system has the potential to save growers hundreds of dollars in pesticide costs.

“University studies show that rice growers spend as much as $150 per acre for crop protection chemicals in Mississippi, and $125 or more per acre in Texas,” says Dobbins. “The University of California Extension Service reports rice growers in the Sacramento Valley spend an average of $69 dollars per acre on herbicides alone.

“Aerial applicators in Brazil are using the electrostatic spray system this growing season to reduce pesticide and application costs for rice growers,” Dobbins continues. “If state regulatory authorities will approve the use of pesticides at a.i. rates below the label rate, this system could make a significant difference in helping U.S. growers reduce their operating expenses and help protect the environment.”

For more information, contact: Blake Dobbins at 210-822-8479.