Cotton Australia – the peak body for the Australian cotton industry - has urged all farmers to remain vigilant and take appropriate action to avoid a repeat of last year’s devastating spray drift incidents.
The 2022-23 season saw one of the worst years on record for spray drift with some farmers suffering millions of dollars’ worth of lost production.
Last year in the McIntyre and Balonne regions alone, producers lost tens of millions in production due to spray drift.
Cotton Australia chief executive Adam Kay says last year’s impact was widespread, with farmers reporting moderate to severe spray drift incidents on the Darling Downs, in St George district, Dirranbandi, Mungindi, Gwydir, Lower Namoi, Walgett and the Macquarie Valley.
“We need a whole-of agriculture response to minimise the impact of off- target drift. It’s not just cotton growers who are suffering extreme hardship when drift from others impacts their crops, but grain growers and other farmers are being hit hard during spray season and there is no one-fix solution,” Mr Kay says.
The potential for another major spray drift season depends on numerous factors including the practices of farmers and contractors applying chemicals and the conditions prevalent at the time of application.
There is the potential for greater damage if spraying occurs under ‘hazardous inversion’ conditions (most commonly occurring at night) when cold air is trapped near the ground and spray droplets can remain suspended in the air for hours and can travel many kilometres beyond the intended target.
Past spray drift events have indicated that some people are not applying in accordance with approved label instructions, or that the label instructions for some products may need review.
Last year Cotton Australia joined forces with other agricultural groups, the Australian Government registration authority and supply regulator of agricultural chemical products, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and enforcement agencies to highlight best practice and warn about the implications of non-compliance.
“We also called for more boots on the ground, so all stakeholders could see action was being taken to crack down on those doing the wrong thing and support those impacted. I’m pleased to say that the regulators appear to be listening.”
In a recent media release, the NSW EPA’s executive director regulatory practice and services, Steve Beaman, says they won’t hesitate to take action against anyone who is spraying pesticides irresponsibly or deliberately causing harm.
“We’ve got around 15 investigations underway in Griffith, Narromine, Carrathool, Moree, Forbes, Warren and Yallaroi – we’re looking at people who may be operating without a license and others who are spraying in the kind of weather where pesticides are likely to drift and cause damage.
“The harm is really serious – we’ve seen farmers lose more than a year’s income just from someone spraying recklessly. It’s devastating and it’s got to stop,” Mr Beaman says.
Cotton Australia is launching an education and advertising campaign, utilising all available communication channels, to raise the issue and urge everyone to do the right thing.
The EPA has also launched a similar campaign hoping that with increased education and compliance, the upcoming season will be a better one.