Spray drift warning system a step closer to implementation

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Published: 
September 9, 2020

Minimising spray drift is a high priority for Australian agriculture, with the grains and cotton industries joining to develop a hazardous weather warning system to provide real-time weather data and alerts to growers and spray operators.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and CRDC are currently working to identify partner/s to develop and deploy the Spray Drift Hazard Alert and Warning System in NSW, southern and Central Queensland, with potential to expand to other states and industries.

GRDC Manager Chemical Regulation, Gordon Cumming said the aim of the investment was to create a system that would improve on-farm decision making, by accurately identifying and forecasting hazardous spray conditions.

“Reducing the risk of spray drift is imperative for social, environmental and financial reasons for Australian agriculture and the wider community,” Gordon said.

“As research leaders, GRDC and CRDC are committed to investing in research that supports improved on-farm practices, the sustainability of agriculture and more specifically the enduring profitability of Australian farmers.

“This work will be a significant venture into an innovative new space that will see the development of a continuous network to mitigate spray drift across the cropping areas of eastern Australia.”

Regulations currently provide strict guidelines for the application of agricultural chemicals, which do not permit spraying when hazardous surface temperature inversions are present. In this situation droplets can remain suspended in the inversion layer in concentrated form and be carried significant distances. Until recently, there has been no reliable and accurate method to determine when inversion conditions are hazardous for agricultural spraying using real time data.

“These (hazardous inversion) conditions exist most nights of the year for undefined periods,” Gordon said, “so we need to have the ability to know exactly when they are occurring and stop spraying.”

This collaborative, potential new investment will build on research by the GRDC, CRDC and the West Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, who investigated the effect of near-surface temperature on spray operations.  The research produced methodology and algorithms that allow for the accurate real time identification and forecasting of hazardous inversion conditions.

After the recent expression of interest (EOI) process, CRDC and GRDC are now considering proposals for the building of a tower network, and the development of software with remote sensing capability to provide information back to growers and spray contractors about weather conditions. This work involves establishing, operating and maintaining a network of Profiling Automatic Weather Stations (PAWS), initially across the grain and cotton regions of NSW, southern and Central Queensland, with the potential to expand nationally.

Once developed and deployed this spray drift hazard alert and warning system will consist of PAWS which collect and process local weather data and provide accurate real time information as well as short-term forecasting about surface inversions to growers or spray contractors. Preferably this information would be presented alongside other relevant weather information that affects decision making by spray operators.

The GRDC and CRDC are equal investment partners in this project to develop the technology for this spray drift hazard alert and warning system.

CRDC’s Executive Director Dr Ian Taylor said the EOI and subsequent submissions represented the next step in the process of improving spray drift hazard detection by creating an effective warning system for growers.

“Spray drift is a significant issue for agriculture and this investment represents a vital cross industry collaboration to improve information and outcomes at a farm level,” he said.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CRDC's quarterly magazine, Spotlight