Farmers are driven to grow safe and healthy food while protecting the land. That’s why many use pesticides, along with other pest management techniques, to reduce damage from insects, weeds and diseases on their crops. In the words of South Dakota soybean and corn farmer Ram Farrell, “Farmers only want to apply as much as they need to grow a healthy crop. It saves money and, more importantly, it helps preserve the land for the next generation.”
Farmers put a lot of thought into their crop protection plan. Here are five questions farmers consider before applying pesticides to their fields.
Is it safe? Safety is the name of the game when it comes to pesticide use. Before they spray, farmers have to be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This certification shows they understand pest management and how to properly store, use, handle and dispose of pesticides and containers.
“We take spraying more seriously than planting and harvesting,” said Paul Casper, a soybean and corn farmer from Lake Preston. “It’s about being a good neighbor, making sure our children and grandchildren are safe, and growing healthy food we can all feel good about eating.”
What insect, weed or disease am I targeting? Farmers routinely walk their fields, looking for bugs, weeds or signs of disease. This is called scouting. Pesticides are just one tool farmers use to deal with harmful insects and weeds in their fields. There are other techniques, such as conservation tillage, GMO seeds and crop rotation, that help prevent and address problems. Knowing what pests are in their fields helps farmers make the right choice about whether to spray or employ another technique.
“Each method is part of a toolkit to safely manage and grow healthy crops,” said Dr. David Shaw, a weed scientist and professor at Mississippi State University. “Many farmers take a holistic approach to stopping pests.”
Have I used this pesticide before? Different products attack target pests in different ways. If farmers use the same pesticide over and over again, the target pest population can adapt over generations and become resistant. That’s why farmers are careful to rotate the products they use to ensure crop protection remains effective.
“The goal is to use pesticides accurately, efficiently and responsibly,” said Joel Pazour, a soybean, corn and wheat farmer from Chamberlain. “It’s just better all the way around.”
What’s the weather forecast? The weather plays a big role in determining when it’s safe to spray. We get some hot, hot, hot days here in South Dakota. When the temperature tops 90 degrees, farmers avoid applying pesticides. They also avoid spraying when wind speeds are over 15 miles per hour so that pesticides don’t drift into other areas. Lastly, they aim to spray during dry weather. Humidity should be between 50 and 60 percent, and no rain should be in the immediate forecast. When it’s too humid, pesticides can stay in the air, rather than settling on the crops and target weeds.
What if the weather conditions aren’t right? They wait to spray. “It’s just not worth taking a chance,” said Paul Casper.
What’s the proper rate at which I can apply this pesticide? Farmers read product labels to learn the use rate for each one. The EPA reviews pesticides and determines the rate at which they’re safe and effective. The whole process takes nearly 10 years from start to finish, and pesticides are re-evaluated every 15 years to make extra sure they’re still safe. You might be surprised to learn that farmers aim to use as little of a product as they can. To cover an acre, which is about the size of a football field, a farmer will use about 20 oz. of pesticides. That’s about the size of a large coffee.
“We’re not spraying more than we need. We formulate a specific recipe for each field and apply no more, no less,” said Kevin Deinert, a soybean, corn and cattle farmer from Mount Vernon.
Now that you know a little bit about all the considerations that go into a pesticide application, you can feel confident that farmers keep your family, food and safety top of mind. Learn more about how farmers control weeds by reading about the Pazour family farm.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.