Catching the drift: New tech addresses chemical spray drift

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Chemical spray drift is a growing concern for farmers and society in general. But new tools can help reduce the problem, a University of Minnesota extension agent says.

David Nicolai, extension educator of crops for the University of Minnesota extension service, presents a hands-on demonstration illustrating spray drift due to various nozzle tips and water pressure to attendees of the Best of the Best in Wheat and Soybean Research conference at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, ND on February 4, 2016. (Forum News Service/Nick Nelson)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. --  Chemical spray drift is a growing concern for farmers and society in general. But new tools can help reduce the problem, a University of Minnesota extension agent says.

"The technology is getting better," said David Nicholai, extension crop specialist.

Nicolai demonstrated some of the new technology at the Best of the Best Research in Wheat and Soybean workshop Feb. 4 in Grand Forks, N.D. The event, organized by the North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota extension services and grain grower groups in both states, drew about 325 people, most from northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

Most of the sessions were aimed specifically at wheat or soybeans. But a few, including Nicolai's, addressed topics of interest to farmers in general.

Farmers spray their crops to help protect them from weeds, insects and other pests. But the chemical spray can drift, with spray particles moving to, and being deposited on, locations for which they aren't intended. Those "nontarget locations," as they're sometimes called, can include nearby communities and fields.


Spray drift comes in two ways:

Vapor drift occurs when the active ingredient evaporates and the vapor containing the active ingredient moves somewhere else.

Particle or droplet drift, which occurs immediately after application, is the actual movement of spray particles away from the target area. Many factors affect this type of drift, but droplet size is the most important. Small droplets fall slowly, and so they're carried farther by air movement.

That's where the new technology comes in. Nozzles that produce large, uniform droplets, which take less time to fall to the ground, can reduce drift. Nicholai and others suggest that farmers consider switching from standard flat-fan nozzles to what are known as turbulence-chamber or venturi nozzles, which increase droplet size and can reduce the amount of drift. Venturi nozzles inject air into the pesticide droplet to make it bigger, thereby reducing risk.

The cost of new, modern nozzles is minor, compared with potential losses from spray drift, experts say.

Companies that sell equipment designed to reduce spray drift can be a good source of information, Nicolai said.

University of Nebraska Extension also has helpful information, he said. To learn more, visit

Nicholai is co-author of online material that addresses spray drift. To view some of his work, visit

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