6 steps to take after spray drift damages your crop

Have you been hit by spray drift recently? You can minimise the financial impact by taking a few simple steps, and calling in some expert assistance to help measure and recoup the cost of losses that can’t be avoided.

Spray drift has been happening for as long as herbicides have been in use, and despite technological advances such as the development of new spray nozzles specifically designed to reduce drift, it’s still happening – as many cotton farmers in north west NSW recently learned first-hand.

There are simple steps that should be taken to avoid spray drift, and it’s in every farmer’s interest to make sure their spraying contractor is taking the correct precautions. Any spray which lands anywhere but on your target is wasted chemical and wasted money. There are also legal grey areas when it comes to whether the contractor or the property owner is responsible when crops on neighbouring properties are damaged by spray drift. And since there’s a good chance your neighbours are using the same contractor, you could be the one dealing with crop losses if the next spray misses the mark. If your spraying contractor doesn’t take spray drift seriously, take your business elsewhere.

So with that aside, what should you do if you think your crop has been affected by spray drift?

1. Inspect for damage

Go out into your paddocks and look for damage. In some cases it will be obvious – you’ll see serious physical damage or plant death. In other cases the damage might be more subtle – for example, you might see reduced fruit formation or fruit abortion in the weeks following the spray drift event.

2. Report the damage

If you’re in NSW, contact the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) hotline on 131 555. In other states, contact the equivalent government agency.

3. Record the damage

Take photos of damaged plants, making note of the location, time and date that you took each photo. Also make notes about any nearby spraying you may have observed in the preceding days or weeks.

4. Take samples

Collecting samples of the damaged plant tissue can allow for further analysis later. Contact a NATA-accredited laboratory – there may be one in a nearby town, or your agronomist ought to be able to direct you to one. The lab should be able to send you some sampling equipment and paperwork to fill out, along with a guide to help you collect and preserve your samples. If you can’t get in touch with a lab immediately, the following procedure should serve you well:

  • Use plastic gloves and collect whole leaves in paper bags – not plastic bags.
  • Take samples from a number of affected areas, and don’t forget to also take samples from areas which do not appear to have been affected. Change gloves when changing sampling sites.
  • Gather at least 30 grams of affected plant tissue from each sampling location, so that there’s enough for a laboratory to conduct a proper analysis.
  • Make note of the location, time and date that you collected each sample.
  • Keep your samples cool and dry – use an esky or something similar while you’re out in the paddock, and get your samples to a lab ASAP.
  • Be mindful of your safety – observe re-entry periods for pesticides and herbicides, and keep an eye out for snakes and other hazards.

Send your samples to the lab for analysis as soon as possible.

5. Monitor and act

The damage may not be terminal – you may be able to save your crop, or at least minimise your losses, by applying foliar fertiliser or irrigating earlier than you’d originally planned. Talk to your agronomist first if you’re not 100% sure about the best course of action.

6. Assess the value of the damage to your crop

Contact Eden PA for assistance in measuring the cost of losses that can’t be avoided. Knowing the value of the damage to your crop in financial terms can make it much easier to recoup your losses from insurers or through legal processes. Eden PA’s Crop Loss Assessment service will arm you with the information you need to support your claim for compensation.

Using recent and archived satellite imagery, combined with your own yield data from previous years, Eden PA can predict what the value of your lost or damaged crop would have been at maturity. The process involves three key steps:

  1. Measurement of the physical extent of the damage – i.e., the number of hectares lost or damaged;
  2. Prediction of the final yield in the areas lost, by comparing satellite imagery captured just before the damage occurred with imagery from previous years, combined with your yield records for previous harvests;
  3. Quantification of the loss in financial terms.

The only information required is your yield data from previous harvests within the paddocks to be assessed, along with your yield data from the partially lost harvest, if you managed to save any of the crop. Eden PA can obtain all of the necessary satellite imagery, conduct the analysis, and produce a full-colour report including maps. You can then present this report to your insurer or legal representative as the basis of your claim for compensation.
If you’ve been hit by spray drift recently, contact Eden PA today to work out a plan of action.

About Eden PA

Eden PA’s Precision Agriculture Consultant has a Graduate Certificate in Precision Agriculture through the University of New England and is currently completing a Master of Environmental Science and Management. He is focused on developing and using cutting-edge practices and state-of-the-art technologies to deliver the best outcomes for farmers.