August 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA8
An Assessment of Agricultural Producers' Attitudes and Practices Concerning Pesticide Spray Drift: Implications for Extension Education
This article summarizes findings of a survey of agricultural producers concerning their practices and attitudes regarding pesticide spray drift. The results reveal that just as the agricultural enterprises involved in the sample are diverse and complex, so too are the approaches that growers take to managing drift. Growers tend to use multiple strategies in approaching this problem and display flexibility in attempting to achieve drift reduction. At the same time, they are concerned about implications of drift reduction for farm profitability. Programs and regulations designed to reduce drift should be constructed in ways that allow growers to comply without bearing excessive costs.
A great deal of research and development has gone into the creation of methods to reduce pesticide spray drift in recent decades, culminating in the First International Symposium on Drift Management (Ramsey, 2005; Buckley, 1998). During the same period, Extension educators have been extremely active in disseminating information on pesticide spray drift reduction (Bricker, Martin, Janssen, & Whitford, 2004; Schumaker & Landefeld, 2002; Spitzer, Whitford, & Fricke, 1994; Fiske, 1991).
The combined efforts of researchers and Extension educators have produced a wide array of techniques to manage and reduce spray drift. Techniques and tools include low drift nozzles, adjuvants, and the erection of various types of barriers between sprayed areas and sensitive areas, among others. Numerous educational programs designed to teach agricultural producers how to employ techniques to reduce drift have been a major focus of work of Extension educators working with agricultural producers. But the overall topic of what to do about pesticide spray drift remains in limbo.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also shown interest in regulating drift (USEPA 735F99024, 1999). Yet there is not yet a consensus on how this should be done. Questions over what kinds of regulations should be adopted and how they should be implemented are ubiquitous (E-Wire, 2007; Southwest Farm Press, 2002; Grier, 1998). Not only are there questions about least cost ways to achieve drift reduction, but there is little in the way of systematic knowledge about what agricultural producers have already done in order to address this problem.
In order to make a first step in filling this gap, we set out to initiate a research program designed to (1) identify what agricultural producers are currently doing to assess and manage the risks of spray drift, (2) give these producers an opportunity to speak out on the this issue as it affects their livelihood, and (3) provide baseline data on current tactics and strategies on drift management of a sample of Ohio growers.
Survey Method and Design
Researchers at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) created a 48-question survey designed to elicit from Ohio agricultural producers their current attitudes and practices regarding spray drift. Rather than using a blind mailing, we invited a total of 150 producers in tree fruit, vegetables, corn and soybeans, grapes, and ornamentals to complete the survey. All surveys were coded for confidentiality. We obtained a total of 90 completed surveys, for a response rate of 60%. This constituted our sample.
In the invitation to participate, we told the volunteer respondents that we would provide them with a final copy of how their answers compared with the survey responses as a whole. Survey updates were presented to participants and their peers at various commodity meetings subsequent to survey implementation. The results and report then served as a springboard for ongoing local workshops where producers learned about improving their environmental stewardship activities.
Initially, we asked respondents to describe their main agricultural production activities in general terms. The results are listed in Table 1.
|Agricultural Activity||Number of producers|
Note that the total number of activities is 117 among the 90 respondents. This is because some respondents produce more than one type of crop (24 of 90, slightly more than 1/4 of the sample).
A total of 71 respondents (79%) stated that agricultural production was their full-time occupation. This rate did not vary statistically among the types of production included here (row crops, tree fruit, and nursery).
For the purpose of the study, we divided agricultural producers into three groups: those who use boom sprayers (used primarily for row crops, sprayed close to the ground), those who use airblast sprayers (used primarily for tree crops, sprayed relatively high into the air), and those who employ custom applicators (professionals who could potentially be using boom or airblast).
A total of 35 respondents stated that they had a custom applicator apply crop protection sprays. A total of 57 reported the use of boom sprayers, while 38 used airblast sprayers. Note that this is a total of 140, again among 90 respondents, indicating that many respondents use more than one kind of application.
These results show the complexity of many of the agricultural operations in this sample. Many producers are engaged in multiple types of agricultural enterprises, and many utilized multiple application strategies regarding spraying pesticides. Among other things, this implies that efforts to categorize producers are likely to meet with difficulties or over-simplifications.
Sensitive Areas Adjoining the Farm
A total of 72 respondents had a satellite or aerial map of their farm, but only 27 used this map for identifying sensitive areas (SA's) adjoining the farm. Respondents were then asked a series of questions concerning areas adjacent to their farms. The results of the first question are presented in Table 2.
|Not at all||Very Little||Somewhat||Relatively Thoroughly||Extremely Thoroughly|
While there was a considerable degree of variation in how much attention producers paid to the potential impacts of spray drift from their operations, the distribution of responses is weighted towards the "thorough" end. This suggests that growers generally have tried to consider the effects of spray drift on adjoining parcels.
We wanted to see whether behaviors/attitudes and practices of producers vary by type of enterprise and/or spraying activities. Coding the responses from Table 1 on a 1 - 5 scale (not at all = 1; extremely thoroughly = 5) allowed us to compare means for three types of respondents--those who use custom applicators, those who use a boom sprayer, and those who use an airblast sprayer. The average boom sprayer reports a 3.77, custom a 3.64, and airblast a 3.53.
These results suggest that those who use boom sprayers in general report higher level of thoroughness in identifying sensitive areas next to their farms as compared to airblast sprayers (F = 5.14, p = 03). This finding is counter-intuitive, given the fact that airblast sprayers tend to generate more drift because they tend to direct their spray upwards. However, multiple regression procedures we used which take into account distance from sprayed areas to sensitive areas and other factors do not reveal any statistical differences in these categories.
As a result of these conflicting findings, we used a cross-tab in order to measure differences (Table 3).
|Not at All||Very Little||Somewhat||Relatively Thoroughly||Extremely Thoroughly|
|Chi Square, p = .07|
|Chi Square, p = .13|
|Chi Square, p = .24|
Note that this cross-tab reveals that the greatest variation among groups occurs at the "Extremely thoroughly" end of the spectrum. Of the 12 respondents in that category, 11 (92%) use a boom sprayer, while only three (25%) use an airblast, and six (50%) use a custom applicator. Still, the Chi-Squares reported in the table do not show strong statistical differences between the groups (p > .05 for all three).
As a result of these analyses, we are not able to say that, although airblast sprayers are generally more likely to produce drift because of tree height, airblast operators have done more than other agricultural producers to identify sensitive areas that may be impacted by spray drift than other producers have done.
In a follow-up question, we asked producers to rank the sensitivity of various types of features (items occupying) lands adjoining their farms. The results are presented in Table 4.
|Endangered Species Lands||29||13||13||9||5|
These findings show that agricultural producers are most concerned about spray drift in terms of the effect that it may have on residential environments (people and homes in that order). This issue is of particular importance in the current era, when residential and commercial areas increasingly encroach upon agricultural areas (the issue of urban sprawl).
Another group of concerns included a mix of other agricultural-related enterprises (crops and bees) and water resources: both running (streams) and static (ponds and lakes). Although static water may have a different risk potential than running water, grower attitudes did not reflect this sensitivity difference. Roads and various types of (generally undeveloped) lands make up the remainder, with "woods" being rated as least sensitive overall.
Next, respondents were asked to describe how closely they spray to sensitive areas (SA's) and what kinds of items are in the intervening areas. The results are in Tables 5 and 6.
|Less than 50 Feet||50 to 100 Feet||Over 100 Feet|
|(Totals exceed number of respondents due to multiple answers).|
As a point of reference, relative to barren ground, grass reduces drift by about 57%, shrubs reduce drift by 98%, and trees reduce drift by 92% (Wolf, Caldwell, Pederson, & Cessna 2004). The shrubs used in that study were willows, and the trees were aspens. The use of different vegetation types can significantly alter the capture efficiency of the buffer zone. However, the study reported here does show the great potential benefit of buffer zones. Wolf et al. (2004) estimated that with an XR 8003 nozzle, a 15 m buffer zone of bare ground would have the same drift reducing potential as 6.7 m grass, or 0.1 m of willow, or 4.7 m aspens. However, nozzle affects the relationship--with a TD11003, you only need a 6.7 m buffer of bare ground to get the same drift as 15 m of bare ground with the XR 8003. This can be reduced to 3.9 m with grass, or 0.3 m with willow, or 1.14 m with aspens. This suggests that planting a single row of small shrubs in the grassy areas is one of the easiest beginnings to reducing off farm drift problems.
The results in Tables 5 and 6 show that a large number of producers spray in close proximity to sensitive areas--over one-third (32) spray within 50 feet of an SA, and of these 32, only eight used airblast sprayers. A total of 72 (87%) sprayed crops less than 100 feet from SA's. Concomitantly, of the 12 growers who do not spray within 100 feet of sensitive areas, half (6) were airblast users. The most common buffer separating sprayed areas from sensitive areas is grassland--not an effective buffer, while trees, which are more effective and not considered by producers to be very sensitive themselves, are second.
Statistical analysis shows that airblast users typically operated at a greater distance from sensitive areas than others do and that the buffer zone between their sprayed areas and adjoining parcels is less likely to consist of ditches or fenced areas. This could help explain some of the previous results discussed above, e.g., how thoroughly they identified sensitive areas.
Communications with Neighbors
Respondents were then asked a series of questions about their communications with neighbors. The results are presented in Table 7.
|Have you had drift complaints from neighbors?||22||64|
|Have you provided your neighbors with information regarding sprays?||36||49|
|Do you notify neighbors of impending sprays?||22||63|
|Have you invited neighbors to your farm to discuss drift mitigation?||8||78|
|Have you done other activities to promote good neighbor relations?||38||48|
|Do you have the restricted chemical listing?||69||14|
|Are you aware of crop restrictions on chemicals (like organic, sensitive crops such as vines, tomatoes) in adjoining areas?||68||17|
Roughly one quarter (26%) of respondents have received drift complaints from neighbors. About 42% have provided their neighbors with information regarding sprays. Most have the restricted chemical listing and are aware of crop restrictions on chemicals. About one fourth of respondents notify neighbors of impending sprays, but only one tenth have invited neighbors to come to the farm to talk about drift mitigation.
The cross tabs in Table 8 provide some insight into relationships between drift complaints and key characteristics of growers.
|Chi-Square, p = .065|
|Chi-Square, p = .005|
|Spray within 100'||Yes||21||48|
|Chi-Square, p = .026|
These results show that producers who provide information to neighbors, are aware of crop restrictions on chemicals, and who abstain from spraying within 100 feet of sensitive areas, are significantly less likely to receive complaints from neighbors. Note that of the 12 producers who do not spray within 100 of a sensitive area, not one reported having received a drift complaint from neighbors (p = .026). There was no statistical difference on complaints for those in the other two distance categories (less than 50 feet and between 50 and 100 feet).
There is a great deal of potential for outreach here. The findings suggest that neighbor complaints are common and that there is room for substantial improvement in sharing information between growers and neighbors regarding sprays. Extension educators should take note, because it is highly likely that opening communications between these two groups could improve relations. For example, if neighbors become more aware of grower activities associated with crop protection, they may be able to make adjustments to minimize potential exposure.
General Opinions of Producers
The final section of the survey was designed to elicit general opinions from growers, including their main concerns regarding drift. Initially we asked them questions concerning their awareness of best management practices (BMP's) and funding programs. The results are in Table 9.
|Are you aware of USDA conservation best management practices (BMP's)?*||32||1|
|Are you aware of federal or state cost sharing programs for buffers/windbreaks and equipment changes fordrift mitigation?||26||58|
|Have you applied for conservation funding for your farm?||24||59|
|* high number of non-response to this question|
These results indicate that many producers are not very well informed about BMP's or cost sharing programs for drift mitigation. Although only one respondent answered "no" concerning awareness of BMP's, non-response on this question was unusually high. Also, only slightly more than one fourth of respondents stated that they have applied for conservation funding for their farms.
Statistical analysis showed that those with airblast sprayers are less likely to be aware of cost sharing programs for drift mitigation or to have applied for conservation funding for their farms.
Next, we presented the respondents with a list of potential concerns and asked them to rank each on a partially anchored Likert scale (1-5, least concerned to most concerned). The results are in Table 10.
|Maintaining farm profitability||0||2||7||28||50|
|Increased costs of pesticides||0||1||9||38||39|
|Farm well water quality*||1||2||9||23||36|
|Insurance costs and availability||1||9||18||31||27|
|Restrictions on pesticide use||1||10||25||32||18|
|Buffer zone mandates||0||12||31||27||15|
|Labels are too complex||10||24||35||14||3|
|* high number of non-response to this question|
These results show that the primary concerns of producers remain economic — with the two leading categories being farm profitability and costs of pesticides. Legal concerns and insurance costs also appear in the upper portion of the list. But also in this area of high priorities is the issue of farm well water quality — at least for those respondents who have farm wells. It is important to note that there were no statistical differences in these ratings among airblast sprayer users versus boom and custom applicator users, so the relative ratings of concerns go across the board in terms of operation/type of spraying.
The final items on the survey asked respondents to rate their willingness to engage in certain activities regarding drift, and if they were unwilling, to check one of five reasons why. The results are in Tables 11A and B.
|Sensitive area identification||2||3||19||26||20|
|Modification of tactics at field edges||2||6||20||24||18|
|Neighbor communications programs||2||8||24||18||18|
|Place portions of land into conservation reserve program||17||15||25||7||5|
|Perception of costs||19||Perception of risks (crop losses)||12|
|Need for aid in planning||14||Time and labor resources||32|
Concerning their willingness to undertake or participate in drift mitigation actions, the majority of growers appear to be responsive to SA identification, modification of tactics, and neighbor communications. Growers who have received complaints are even more interested in sensitive area identification, but there is no correlation with getting a complaint and other approaches (see Table 12).
Placing land into conservation reserve practices is clearly less popular. Given the opportunity to express why they are not willing to expand their drift mitigation actions, growers focused on time and labor, and perception of costs and risks, and expressed the need for additional help in planning new operations. So in preparing any new strategy on drift mitigation, these barriers must be considered. Time and other costs and program planning help should be undertaken with grower inputs before any reasonable expectations are anticipated, particularly in the absence of new regulatory actions.
Table 12 is a cross tab that compares reports of drift complaints from neighbors to grower willingness to participate in sensitive area identification. There is a moderate level of statistical association here (p = .089). Note that in each of the first four categories on willingness (categories 1 - 4) a majority of growers had not received drift complaints. But among those who rate their willingness to engage in SA identification a "5"--very willing--half have received drift complaints (10 of 20 — 50%), compared to only about 25% for the entire sample. So receiving drift complaints appears to be a potential motive in growers' willingness to engage in SA identification.
|Not willing 1||0||2|
|Very willing 5||10||10|
|Chi-Square, p =.086|
Summary and Conclusions
The study reported here documents the concerns, problems, practices, and attitudes among agricultural producers about the topic of pesticide spray drift. Although this subject has been the focus of an enormous amount of research and development as well as outreach (Extension) education, there has been a paucity of information regarding growers' views. In that sense then, the survey presented here represents the growers' turn to "talk back" to those who have been talking to them for so long about spray drift.
The results include a great deal of very specific, disaggregated statistics--which are difficult to summarize--but which may prove useful at least as a starting point for many involved in Extension outreach and education, for those involved in pesticide spray application, and those who are developing guidelines for managing drift.
For example, we found that although agricultural producers who use airblast sprayers are not more likely to examine sensitive areas on parcels located next to them, they may be "making up" for this by abstaining from spraying in close proximity to those parcels. Producers who do not spray within 100 feet of sensitive areas are substantially less likely to get complaints from neighbors than those who do. Respondents who have received drift complaints, however, are substantially more willing to engage in sensitive area identification than those who have not.
Emerging opportunities include the following.
Development of neighbor communication policies: While 26% of respondents have received complaints about pesticide spray drift, few take much time to interact with neighbors regarding application. This would indicate that there is little incentive to communicate with neighbors and possibly penalties (real or imagined) for neighbor communication policies.
Cost-sharing agency identification: Only 31% of respondents were aware of state or federal cost sharing programs for windbreaks/buffer zones, but 29% have applied for conservation funding. This shows that respondents who know of these programs are highly likely to try and take advantage of the opportunity. Making growers more aware of these programs may promote adoption of these techniques for drift reduction.
Incentives for risk reduction: Farm profitability is the greatest concern for most respondents. So drift mitigation strategies need to address cost issues. This is also shown by 19 respondents listing perception of costs as a major barrier to participate in drift mitigation tactic and 32 respondents listing time and labor costs as a major barrier. Legal problems are also of great concern for using pesticides on farms. So the incentives for risk reduction are to avoid legal problems, but cost issues prevent many from taking action.
Education: The distribution of information about drift management could be improved. Only 38% of respondents were aware of USDA conservation BMP's, while 69% were unaware of federal/state cost sharing programs for buffer zone development or equipment costs. A part of education is teaching producers where to find relevant information. An appropriate activity in this area is to help producers identify sources of funding for these activities.
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