Don’t spray every field: agronomists

Growers are being wasteful with fungicide, according to two agronomists.

Wet weather has created an ideal environment for diseases such as sclerotinia stem rot, but not every field needs to be treated.

“There has been a phenomenal number of acres sprayed with fungicide this year, both in cereals and canola,” said Alberta Agriculture crop specialist Harry Brook.

“Sometimes I’m wondering if (farmers) really truly assessed whether or not it’s needed.”

He said he has spoken to growers who say their crops are dry by mid-day, the soil surface is dry and there are no major signs of disease in their fields, yet they’re spraying anyway.

Brook said there is a “herd mentality” when it comes to fungicide application, which causes growers to forego a proper risk assessment to determine whether a fungicide application is required.

“I’ve got a strong feeling that a lot of guys are not bothering to go through those steps. They’re going to spray because their neighbours are spraying,” he said.

He said the size of modern farms is also contributing to the over-spraying epidemic. Farmers are no longer able to inspect each field individually because they simply have too many of them.

“The mentality tends to be, ‘well, if I’ve got to spray it on one field, I’ll spray it on all the fields,’ ” he said.

Elston Solberg, president of Agri-Trend Agrology Ltd., agreed that fungicide applications have gotten out of hand.

“Yes, the crops are big. Yes, the crops are growing like gangbusters. Yes, prices are great. But man oh man, we’re just spraying stuff right, left and centre,” he said.

“Guys just sort of default and say, ‘screw it. I’m going to spray everything.’ ”

CropLife Canada said proper chemical use is part of farmer land stewardship practices.

“We know that growers are very careful about what pest control products they use and how they use them,” Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry, said in an email.

“We would remind all growers that it is imperative that they read and follow label instructions. We also remind them that they should only use these products when necessary.”

Solberg said farmers won’t hesitate to spend $20 to $30 per acre on disease control when canola is selling for more than $13 per bushel and yield prospects are good like they are this year.

“I understand the pressure that farmers are under,” he said.

“I just don’t know why we just don’t slow down a little bit and make better decisions.”

Growers have tools at their disposal to help with those decisions, such as the Canola Council of Canada’s sclerotinia stem rot checklist, which helps farmers decide when an application is necessary.

Agri-Trend is trying out a new DNA testing service offered by the Quantum Genetix laboratory in Regina. Initial results from canola samples provided by Agri-Trend clients show low to moderate levels of sclerotinia infection.

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