These pushpin-like balloons identify sites that are sensitive to ill effects from spray drift. Growers register the sites so neighbors and custom pesticide applicators can exercise special care when spraying.
Midwestern farmers are finding a new way to ease some of the tensions caused by conflicting interests between field crop growers and specialty crop producers. It’s called DriftWatch, a voluntary “sensitive crop” reporting system that notifies other farmers and pesticide applicators about locations where spray drift may be a major concern.
The Pesticide Sensitive Crops and Habitats Registry program began in Indiana in 2008, and now, the map on the DriftWatch Web site is filled with multicolored electronic pushpins—pop-up balloons—identifying grape vineyards and other fruit orchards; locations of bee yards; fields growing vegetables, nursery plants, or organic crops; and ecologically sensitive habitats where pesticides might not be desired. In the two years of operation, the Web site has recorded 10,000 unique visitors.
Leighanne Hahn, water quality and endangered species specialist with the Office of the Indiana State Chemist, which regulates pesticides, fertilizers, and feeds in Indiana, said she’s just finished registering field number 1,442 on the day Good Fruit Grower called her—and was working on a big expansion outside of Indiana as well.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois joined the program this spring. Minnesota is constructing its site now. Ohio is considering joining. Illinois had its own registry system and brought its own database to the site. “There are more pushpins in Illinois than in Indiana now,” Hahn said. Almost all the Illinois sites are beekeepers, but many are grapes.
Moreover, the creators of the program said they intend to extend the program across the continental United States.
On the fertile, well-watered soils of the Midwest, lots of farmers jostle for space to grow crops of all kinds. And while Indiana is not known as a wine producer, one pushpin near Bloomington, Indiana, belongs to Creekbend Vineyard and Oliver Winery, which sold 270,000 cases and 42 kinds of wine last year. Indiana is a leader in production of tomatoes for processing, Illinois is the nation’s leading producer of pumpkins, and Michigan generates nearly 40 percent of its total crop income from about 200 different specialty crops.
In Indiana, the Wine Grape Council is a sponsor of the Web site and encourages grape growers to register their vineyards. Last year, 454 acres of grapes on 39 sites were registered. Even more tomato farms are listed.
The trouble with growing crops in a sea of corn and soybeans stems in large part from the extensive use of the herbicide glyphosate, which is applied these days to almost all corn and soybeans—and Indiana has 10 million acres of these two crops. In an effort to control glyphosate-resistant weeds, plant breeders are stacking new genes into herbicide-resistant crops to make them resistant to 2,4-D and dicamba, so crop farmers can use these two herbicides in mixtures with glyphosate. However, grapes are very sensitive to 2,4-D and dicamba.
The issue with beekeepers is insecticides; with organic farmers, it’s any kind of synthetic pesticide.
While Hahn manages the Web site, most of the work is done by the users—and it’s easy work. At the Web site www.driftwatch.org, a farmer in one of the participating states registers with an e-mail address and password of his or her own choosing, then fills in name, address, zip code, phone number, and the crop or activity you want to protect.
You locate the field you want to register by entering an address or zip code and clicking on the search button. The Web site uses the Google Maps interface, which will give a satellite view and you can find your farm. Clicking on corners of a field outlines it for you.
Commercial pesticide applicators can use the site to log in and find sites they need be concerned about. Moreover, when someone registers a field in their area of activity, they will get an e-mail message telling them about it.
The pop-up balloons are color-coded and labeled with letters—yellow B stands for beekeeper, red G stands for grapes, green C stands for certified organic, etc. Each balloon contains information about the sensitive site.
The state of Indiana has made some entries as well—registering endangered species habitat, managed public lands, and watersheds that supply water for public drinking.
Originally, the Web site was her idea, Hahn said, but she credits Oklahoma with starting a registry there in 2002, when cotton growers became concerned about herbicide drift. Kansas then developed a registry, and Iowa followed with a registry for beekeepers. None of these sites has the Google Map feature.
The Office of the Indiana State Chemist investigates spray drift damage complaints. But by the time a person from the OISC comes out to walk a field after a complaint, the damage has been done, Hahn said.
“Let’s stop walking and start talking,” she said. “We need to better communicate the value of our crops and where they are located, and the Web site is just one way of doing this.”