It’s the silent, unseen threat to Australian agriculture that costs farm businesses millions of dollars a year and is indiscriminate in the industries it strikes. Spray drift is unfortunately an ongoing threat to agriculture and one farmer on the receiving end of the devastation can do little to combat. At the same time, the application of pesticides remains vital to many ag sectors to maximise production and profit potential.
Australian agriculture encompasses such a broad range of industries that it’s imperative each can co-exist in often quite close proximity to others and that each industry, and the farmers within each of these industries, can trust their nearest neighbours and have confidence in the practices they employ, and the way these practices are implemented.
It’s a concern that goes beyond paddocks and farmland, with spray drift having the potential to impact neighbouring farms, native plants and animals, and other environmental assets. As a community then, we all have an interest in how the issue is being addressed and ongoing improvements maintained.
And there has certainly been considerable headway made in recent years on raising awareness of the issue, alongside significant investment in new strategies and technologies to minimise the impact, and incidents, of spray drift. Research around more accurate identification and forecasting of weather conditions that increase the risk of spray drift is happening alongside use of camera sprayers that accurately apply a fraction of the volume of herbicides normally used in broadcast spraying.
Technological advances will continue to spearhead developments in this area, but education and proactiveness on the part of farmers remains just as important. Acknowledging the issue is one thing, but appreciating the importance of keeping pesticides as close to home as possible, respect for neighbours and understanding pesticide application best-practice is key.
There are too many other challenges for agriculture, without having concerns about one that can potentially be avoided – in most cases – with the right tools and knowledge. We not only owe it to our industry colleagues to take all precautions necessary, we owe it to our communities, which can also feel the consequences of spray drift. There’s an obligation to our industry as a whole as well, and the impact irresponsible and inattentive practices can have on international trade cannot be overstated. Local consumers, too, need to have confidence that the food they consume has been produced under the safest conditions possible, and today they’re savvy enough to take their dollars elsewhere should they become aware of contamination issues.
Australian agriculture is renowned for its professionalism, productivity, quality, and sustainable and safe practices. It’s up to everyone in the industry to strive to maintain this gold-standard reputation and with this in mind the impact of spray drift has to be tackled on every front. Existing and emerging technologies, education, regulation, and prosecutions in the event of alleged wrongdoing will all play a part in changing perceptions, raising awareness, and improving management practices around the issue.