|By VICKI JOHNSON
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Technology has come a long way toward protecting people and the environment from pesticide damage, said Erdal Ozkan, a professor and ag engineering with Ohio State University extension.
Ozkan updated farmers on new technology Jan. 16 during the annual Fruit and Vegetables Growers Congress at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
“They are poisons. They are designed to kill,” he cautioned. “But as long as we apply pesticides properly we will not harm the environment.”
Ozkan said new technology applies to both field crops and orchards, although the types of equipment can vary.
The first step to preventing harm to people or the environment is people who know what they’re doing, Ozkan said.
“Don’t undervalue the importance of education,” he said. “The United States has the most educated farmers and applicators in the world.”
He reviewed the proper use of basic safety equipment, such as gloves and face masks.
But an even more effective method of protecting people from pesticides is to use automation.
“We can eliminate the need for humans during the application process,” Ozkan said.
For example, today’s technology ranges from the use of remote-controlled helicopters to unmanned tractors and other vehicles.
“It’s all done without any human intervention,” he said.
Ozkan said pesticides that drift into unplanned areas and kill vegetation is another problem faced by farmers.
“Seventy-five percent of complaints ODA (the Ohio Department of Agriculture) gets from rural people are related to spray drift,” he said.
The solution to drift, he said, is to use additives that reduce drift and use the proper low-drift nozzles on spray equipment.
“Always small droplets are more effective than large droplets,” he said. However, small droplets tend to drift farther.
Most companies have their own versions of low-drift nozzles.
He said Ohio State University is one of two or three universities in the nation that have the technology to measure droplet size in pesticide use. Studies are under way to learn about the problems and methods of solving them.
He said studies have shown that drift problems usually occur when pesticide droplets are less than 100 microns in size.
In addition to low-drift nozzles, various types of shields can be used to help contain a pesticide to the target area.
Using air-assisted sprayers also is more effective than conventional equipment. Especially on soybean rust, Ozkan said air-assisted equipment can penetrate the soybean canopy better and get the pesticide to its target.
Technology to control droplet size includes atomizers that work to keep droplet size uniform, even when flow pressure is changed. Atomizers are often used with global positioning system (GPS) to allow for varying coverage within a field.
“You’re depending on air to control the droplet size,” Ozkan said. “That’s the beauty of these products.”
Another problem in pesticide use is using too much of a chemical.
By using variable-rate application technology – “controlling the amount of product you put onto the field” – he said areas with pest problems can be targeted without spraying an entire field.
GPS allows for precision spraying of crops, but he said there are also site-specific application methods that don’t rely on GPS.
Another technology “sees” weeds and sprays them without harming the crop. Equipment is programmed to “see” the color green, for example, or to analyze the shape of each plant.
“It’s all done in a millisecond,” Ozkan said.
Even more technology allows equipment to place pesticide in the exact location it is needed.
“There are sprayers right now that detect the gaps between plants,” he said.
As technology continues to improve, Ozkan said pesticide application is becoming more cost-effective for producers – both in buying new equipment and in limiting the use of chemicals to where they are needed.
Published in the January 25, 2006 issue of Farm World.