Managing spray drift

'Spray drift' is the airborne movement of agricultural chemicals as droplets, particles or vapour and is a major issue in some regions of Victoria.

Off-target spray drift does not only relate to herbicides damaging susceptible plants outside the target area as it can also cause unacceptable chemical residues that impact upon domestic and international market trade.

In this short video you will hear from farmers who understand both sides of the spray drift issue. We hope their stories help you to think carefully about spray drift.

Steven Field, Statewide Specialist Chemicals

Spray drift has long been an issue that chemical users have grappled with.

It can have a big impact on people in your local community, damaging crops and pastures, and even polluting waterways.

Now the use of chemicals in agriculture is a legitimate activity but there’s no escaping that their use is under increasing scrutiny by the general public.

By minimising spray drift farmers will save money, protect their assets but perhaps most importantly not damage the livelihood of farmers in their local communities.

In this short video we’re hearing from farmers who understand both sides of the issue, and we hope their stories help you to think carefully about spray drift.

Ian Rathjen, Whistling Eagle Vineyard

We run a mixed farm, we’re a fairly substantial vineyard, over 100 acres of vineyard, we run a sheep and also cropping enterprise.

I’ve been farming since I left school at 17 and I’m 61 now so that’s more than I care to count.

Look in terms of spray drift we’ve had several events here, some of them small events you’ve just noticed at the end of the season a few curly leaves.

But we had one major event back in 2012, that was the year that there was a lot of events, lot of single events along the range here, and it was a year that we lost quite a lot of growth out of that year.

The main thing that concerns me is residue left in fruit and the ramifications of wineries being rejecting fruit and the trickle back effect it will take and the cost to them and the cost to me.

The drift that occurred in 2012 we believe travelled about three to four kilometres and it was just one of those summer drifts.

We think we know the source of it, we didn’t do anything to prosecute and I do believe people have the right to farm, so being a farmer myself I’d hate to prosecute somebody then actually have an accident one day myself.

One of the other concerns I have, and it’s a concern from my point of view too being a farmer, like, you know, the last thing I want to do is cause a drift to go to somebody else’s, and I’m using sprays all the time at the vineyard here for fungicides and one thing and another, and I’d hate to see there being a ramification from that going to other farmers as well as my neighbours.

So I’m really conscious of just how we manage our spray programs here in the vineyard as well.

If you have a conscience, then you’ll probably be concerned about spray drift if it’s your causing it or if it’s come from somewhere else.

Look, the last thing we want to do in this world is upset our neighbours and my neighbours I’ve grown up with, I’ve spent a lot of time with them, it’s a very tight community around here and the last thing we want to do is be at one another’s displeasure when it comes to spray drift, so I’m very conscious of getting the message out there to people so that these events don’t happen and we don’t have those unpleasant factors.

I don’t think the neighbours around here are vindictive or vicious in any way.

Sheila McClure, Barangaroo Boutique Wines

My name is Sheila and we own Barangaroo Boutique Wines just out of Horsham in Victoria, and we run a vineyard.

We’ve had ups and downs with droughts, locusts, floods down the hill, and spray drift so it’s been a challenge with everything.

We did suffer some spray drift back in November 2017.

We weren’t sure what it really was, we just noticed a lot of our leaves were strange and we happened to have our brother-in-law down that particular weekend and we showed him, and he said it was caused from spray drift.

So he advised us to contact the authorities which he had a contact, so they come up in their biosecurity gear, took a lot of samples off the vineyard to take back to do testing, and did find it was caused by spray drift.

We did incur extra cost with the chemicals that we had to use, plus we did lose about three tonne of grapes which is quite a bit of income to us as we are a very small vineyard.

They’re very good around here, our neighbours when they do go to spray they do come and notify us what they’re using, and it’s usually not anything dangerous for our vines.

Especially when you live in a cropping area like we do, and there’s only two little vineyards in the middle of it, just the

fact that we spent so many years getting this vineyard up to where it was and then to find spray drift it’s very disheartening, and it does take a bit out of you.

Steven Field, Statewide Specialist Chemicals

So that’s how spray drift is causing headaches for some of our farmers and we hope their stories will leave an impression.

There’s a heap of top quality information out there about how to minimise spray drift, and even advanced sprayer training that people can attend.

Government and industry are working together to try and provide better information and tools to people to help them make informed decisions about when to spray.

It’s critical that the farmer in the paddock who understands the local conditions and has assessed the risks goes on to make good decisions.

The future of farming depends on it.

If you suspect spray drift has occurred on your property, please report the issue. As an agricultural chemical user, you have a legal obligation to ensure that the chemicals you apply stay within the target area.

Under the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992, it is an offence to undertake agricultural spraying which:

  • injures any plants or stock outside of the target area
  • injures any land outside the target area so that growing plants, or keeping stock on that land would result in contamination
  • is likely to contaminate any agricultural produce derived from plants or stock outside the target area.

Tips to minimise off-target spray drift

A combination of factors can contribute to spray drift, including the volatility of the chemical, weather conditions, equipment and droplet size.

Listed are some handy tips to help chemical users minimise off-target spray drift:

  • Always read and follow the product label directions, including any restrictions. Many labels now detail weather conditions, droplet size, equipment and spray drift restraints and mandatory buffer zones to help users manage drift.
  • Before you start, check that the weather conditions are suitable for spraying (wind speeds between 3 to 15km per hour blowing away from sensitive crops and areas, Delta T between 2 and 8, no inversion layer present). If the weather is unstable or unpredictable, don't spray. Continue to monitor weather conditions while spraying and stop spraying if it turns unfavourable.
  • Choose a chemical formulation that is less likely to drift off-target (use amine formulations of 2,4-D instead of high volatile ester formulations).
  • Check for susceptible plants, animals and areas (streams, bee hives) close to the target area and put strategies in place to protect them from drift. Use a buffer zone or leave an unsprayed buffer next to a susceptible crop.
  • Discuss your spray plans with neighbouring properties, particularly if you plan to spray near a sensitive crop or area. This provides them with the opportunity to implement protective measures on their property if needed and can help avoid complaints later.
  • Ensure your equipment is set up and calibrated correctly.
  • Use a nozzle or sprayer setting that produces the largest possible droplet size (coarsest spray quality) without compromising the efficacy of the chemical. Larger droplets are less likely to drift.

Spray drift guidelines

Buffer zones and vegetative barriers

Buffer zones and vegetative barriers are valuable tools that can be used to reduce the potential for spray drift when applying agricultural chemicals.

Read more

Living in harmony: pesticides and bees

Information on managing risks associated with agricultural spraying near apiary sites.

Read more

Recognising surface temperature inversions

It is unsafe to spray when conditions favour surface temperature inversions, due to the potential for spray drift. Learn how to identify weather conditions associated with surface temperature inversions.

Read more

Spray drift restraints and mandatory buffer zones

This page explains some of the operating principles in relation to spray drift risk such as how to correctly apply mandatory buffer zone labels.

Read more

Guide to estimating wind speed

This guide is not intended as a substitute for electronic hand held weather meters, which are available from spray equipment suppliers.

Read more

Volatile vapour drift risk

Learn about the risks associated with volatile vapour production by ester formulations of phenoxy herbicides.

Read more

Other resources

  • Spray drift risk assessment manual — The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) published the 'Spray drift risk assessment manual’ which mandates specific label instructions based on potential impacts of spray drift.
  • Weather essentials for pesticide application — GRDC The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) publication provides a practical and visual guide to al weather conditions impacting pesticide application.
Page last updated: 02 Nov 2023