Thursday, August 12, 2021

The trials and tribulations of herbicide drift


Liberty apple on MARK rootstock. MARK is now considered obsolete.

We had thunder storms blow in while we were fishing last night. No fish were caught. We picked up 2" of rain in the last 24 hours.

The light was murky, consequently the colors in the pictures don't "pop".

Wild Plum. In this case, Prunus nigra or Canadian Plum. It is possible that a few pieces of scionwood from this bush followed me home a few years ago.

Fruit load is immense. It reminds me of the story of Joseph and the seven good years and seven famine years. I doubt that we have six-and-a-half more years to prepare. To date, one sister-in-law declined the invitation to pick apples and can applesauce with the reason "too busy" and one sister-in-law said "I want to participate."

Round-Up is a glyphosate-based herbicide that was patented by Monsanto. When a few weeds started to show glyphosate resistance, Monsanto isolated the genes responsible and genetically engineered them into corn, soybeans and some other field crops. That allowed the farmer to plant "Round-Up Ready" seeds and then control weeds by spraying with Round-Up AFTER the crop was up and growing.

Monsanto patented the genetic technology and very aggressively prosecuted anybody who saved seeds. There are some farmers who passionately hate Monsanto corporation.

Earlier this year I was walking around a hinge-cut at the hunting lease. The trees were a mix of dead ash, dying elm, soft maple and a few black cherry. The ground had very little brush or cover. There was a total absence of spring wildflowers, not even violets. There was some red fescue in places but that was about the extent of the ground vegetation.

The fact that there was very little brush and ground vegetation didn't seem like a clue at the time. I simply appreciated the ease of walking.
Picture taken May 10 at the hunting lease.  Two things can be deduced from this image: The damage was caused by a pre-planting spray .AND. the person who applied the spray was probably applying "off-label" because the label specifies a minimum soil temperature of 50F which usually happens the first week of May. This damage is advanced enough to suggest the fields were sprayed two or three weeks earlier.

One thing I noticed was glyphosate damage (leaf bleaching of newly emerging leaves) on a few scruffy, sad looking blackberry bushes a full 25 yards into the "woods". That suggested piss-poor spraying practices. It is considered poor practice to spray when the winds are high. It is considered poor practice to spray with the boom any higher than necessary. It is considered poor practice to spray with high pressure that will reduce droplet size which increases spray drift.

That does not mean that the minimum wage employee operating the spray equipment doesn't jack up the pressure, raise the boom and race across the field. His thinking is likely to be that drifting spray will cover for the streaks where he was a little bit off-course and raising the boom reduces the likelihood of a ground-strike and damage he will have to explain to the boss.

The problem may have been exacerbated by people not wanting to work. The ones who are working are overloaded and doing their best to prepare the fields for planting. Too much wall and not enough paint brushes.

Rewind: Fifteen years ago I was hunting deer in that woods and the edge was a nearly impenetrable thicket of blackberries. Deer and bunnies like to bed in that dense thicket. Birds fed on the berries and bugs and nested in the dense tangle. With all the light hitting the ground, that thicket should have extended fifty feet deep.

Putting those two phenomena together, is seems obvious that careless post-emergence spraying of glyphosate had a huge impact on the forest floor along the edges of farm fields. That is forcing me to rethink what and how I am going to plant mast crops to take advantage of the ash and elm die-off.

I presume some species of mast producing trees and bushes are more tolerant of glyphosate than others but it is not well documented. At this time, the only strategy I can think of is avoidance. That is, to use species that leaf out later in the season, to use "tree tubes" and to plant taller trees with the lower branches pruned off.

I assume I could build a linear brush-pile to give the spray something to plate-out on but that is a lot of work.

This is going to take some thinking.

Image added in response to a comment. This is a leaf with a hydrophobic surface. In this case, a poppy leaf. Very little herbicide will enter the plant if the droplet cannot "wet out" to the surface.


  1. Spray drift is a HUGE problem with modern pesticides tailored to kill everything but one crop.

    1. I am hoping somebody will pipe up "The yabba-dabba-doo tree is relatively resistant to glyphosate". Among the weeds, clover and Canadian thistle are relatively resistant.

      Maybe I should be looking at trees which have leaves or needles where water beads on the surface.

  2. It should be illegal. Too destructive AND carcinogenic.

    1. It is illegal to apply any herbicide off-label.

      Enforcement is tough.

  3. Labels? Who reads 'em... You got work to do, get on the tractor and go spray those fields... Grrrr

  4. I remember Mark Shepard in "Restoration Agriculture" mentioned his property was surrounded by bean fields and his first two rows of trees were something along the line of hybrid poplars. The thinking that if it didn't kill them they would releaf quickly.
    I will have to check my copy later.

    1. Chapter 14 page 203
      " The hybrid poplars surrounding New Forest Farm, planted purposefully as sacrificial trees....." He goes on to state they have taken several hits and only loss was leaves which quickly regrew.

  5. Doug fir is not too sensitive, but not immune.

  6. This has been an extraordinarily windy year, with erratic rain, in much of the country. It has been a tough year for farmers. Maybe I'm just making excuses for the guy but I expect that he just got the spraying done when he could and hoped for the best. Maybe next year will be more normal and he will be able to do a better job. ---ken

  7. My 3 acres used to be part of a family farm. They treated it like they still owned it. Now that a Corporate Farmer owns the land I deal with spray drift every year. With thousands of acres to farm they are on a schedule. Too windy that day is just too bad.


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