The agricultural commissioner of the No. 1 agricultural county in the U.S. has endorsed a Western Farm Press online continuing education course (CEU) as part of mitigation efforts to minimize herbicide spray drift damage to crops.

Karen Francone, Fresno County, Calif., deputy ag commissioner has notified Pest Control Advisers (PCA), growers and licensed applicators that completion of the CEU course, Spray Drift Management to Minimize Problems on www.westernfarmpress.com or www.farmpressuniversity.com meets the requirement that county commissioner Jerry Prieto has imposed that all PCAs, licensed applicators and ag pilots must attend a spray drift mitigation class if they recommend or apply herbicides this spring in a sprawling area on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Francone, who has taken the free Western Farm Press spray drift management course sponsored online by Valent USA, said the ag department conducted seven two-hour classes on spray drift mitigation this winter that attracted about 400 people.

“For whatever reasons, many PCA and licensed applicators did not attend one of the classes and they cannot receive herbicide application permits unless they complete the required two hours of education.

“I have gone through the spray drift management course Western Farm Press and Valent are offering, and it is excellent. With the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's two hours accreditation for the course in '06 it now meets our two-hour requirement,” Francone said.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation-approved course was accredited for 1 CEU in the laws and regulations category last year. This year Western Farm Press and Valent requested 2 CEUs in laws and regs for the course and it was approved. The course has been accredited for two years for 2 CEUs for all Arizona licensed consultants by the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

‘Right on money’

“When I went through the course it directly addressed the issues we address in our classes. It was right on the money to what the experts were teaching in class. That's why we are telling those who did not attend one of our classes to take the online course to meet the educational requirement we now have in place for herbicide applications in the area affected by drift last year,” said Francone.

“The approval of the spray drift management course by the Fresno County agricultural commissioner for its spray drift mitigation effort is a major endorsement of the online continuing education program initiated at Western Farm Press almost two years ago,” said Farm Press publisher Greg Frey. “It is an endorsement we value greatly.”

Fresno County is the No. 1 agricultural county in the nation with almost $4.7 billion in annual agricultural production in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. The top 10 crops in the county representing $3.3 billion in farm gate income are grapes, cotton, tomatoes, almonds, milk, cattle and calves, poultry, onions, oranges and peaches. There are more than 250 commercial crops in the county.

Francone explained that last spring the county ag commissioner's office received the largest number of spray drift loss reports ever reported in Fresno County.

“We had 43. Normally we have one or two,” Francone said.

The problem was focused on the sprawling West Side of the county in an area bounded by Kerman, Firebaugh, Mendota and Tranquility. This is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world with a wide array of permanent and row crops.

Weather related

Although the investigation to identify the exact causes of so many drift complaints continues, most people agree much of it was weather related. It was a very wet spring last year and there were few windows for herbicide applications due to wet, rainy conditions. When windows opened, growers and applicators move quickly to get herbicides on. Also, investigators indicate that inversion layers had a lot to do with the drift problems.

Similar, but not as severe problems also were reported in Kings and Madera counties.

When it became apparent the problem was widespread, Prieto called six industry meetings to examine the problem and map a strategy to preclude it from happening again.

A new permitting process came from those meetings and it was put into place for the application of 13 herbicides between Jan. 15 and April 6.

Prior to any permit being issued, permit applicants were required to attend one of the two-hour educational sessions or, now, complete the Spray Drift Management 2-CEU online at www.westernfarmpress.com or www.farmpressuniversity.com.

The herbicide application permit must be submitted at least 24 hours before the proposed application and must list all susceptible crops within one mile of the proposed treatment area.

All herbicide applications must go on during daylight hours and no herbicide shall be applied during an inversion. All applications must take place with a minimum wind speed of at least 3 miles per hour and not more than 10 miles per hour.

Aerial applications are prohibited between Feb. 1 and April 30 unless expressly granted by the county agricultural commissioner.

Cooperation

Francone said the new permitting rules were created in an atmosphere of cooperation.

“There was a little finger pointing in the beginning of people wanting to assess blame, but by the second meeting it was an atmosphere of cooperation to address the problem and make sure it does not happen again,” she said.

The task force meetings included growers, applicators, PCAs and chemical manufacturing representatives.

The online continuing education course now recommended by the ag commissioner's office was developed by the Western Farm Press editorial staff relying on information provided by a wide array of experts including Jim W. Wells, president, Environmental Solutions Group, LLC and former director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation; Richard Stoltz, aerial application consultant and NAAA Operation S.A.F.E. analyst; Ken Giles, professor of biological and agricultural engineering, University of California, Davis; Roy Rutz, supervisor, Pesticide Enforcement Branch, California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR); Randy Segawa, supervisor, Environmental Monitoring Branch, DPR; and Jack Peterson, associate director, Environmental Services Division, Arizona Department of Agriculture.

Also providing background information: Reports and other materials issued by the Spray Drift Task Force, available online at www.agdrift.com; The Safe and Effective Use of Pesticides, second edition (ANR Publication 3324), written by Patrick J. O'Connor-Marer and published by the University of California's Integrated Pest Management Project; the proceedings of the North American Conference on Pesticide Spray Drift Management (1998); and numerous online sources.

Francone is supportive of online training.

“I have been doing continuing education training here since 1996. It is very difficult to keep people's attention for two hours by lecturing.

“When you take a course online like the spray drift management course on Western Farm Press' Web site, you have to understand the information because you have to answer questions in order to complete the course.

“I think it is a very good way to learn and we would like to do more online training and education and I am recommending that everyone in the ag commissioner's office complete the course,” she concluded.

Texas, Oklahoma

A similar spray drift management course is offered to licensed applicators in Texas and Oklahoma via the Web site of Southwest Farm Press, a Western Farm Press sister publication.

Also, the American Society of Agronomy has accredited the spray drift management course for continuing education for the 15,000 accredited Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) in the U.S. and Canada.

To date more than 1,100 spray drift management courses have been completed online.

More than 3,200 online CEU courses have been completed through the Farm Press University program, which now includes a total of seven courses with two more scheduled to go online soon.

e-mail: hcline@prismb2b.com