Considerations to Keep Spray Drift Low & Your Neighbours Happy

David Evans

Mar 11, 2022

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We’ve all heard the saying, ‘good fences make good neighbours’. The same could equally be said when applied to the application of agricultural chemicals.

When spraying, everyone has a responsibility to ensure that chemicals remain in the target area doing the job for which they’re intended and not drifting across the countryside.

We’ve all heard horror stories about the successful prosecution of farmers in circumstances where carelessness has impacted on another crop often many kilometres away with disastrous effect.

The severe financial consequences in terms of fines and compensation not to mention the damage done to long standing relationships can be devastating.

Four of Australia’s top agricultural peak-bodies have recently united to send an important message to all farmers about sticking to best practice during the summer spraying region.

The National Farmers Federation, Cotton Australia, Grain Growers Limited, and the Rice Growers Association represent primary producers who generate billions of dollars for the Australian economy each year.

They have strong advice this summer spraying season aimed at protecting each other’s livelihoods.

Australians care about their neighbours, a sentiment felt strongly by farmers throughout the country who are committed to doing the right thing.

Tony Mahar, CEO of the National Farmers Federation says, "We know that the vast majority of farmers are doing the right thing and taking the actions required as part of our best practice methodology. But we need everyone to be on the same page because one mistake can make a huge difference." 

Grain Growers CEO Dave McKeon reminded all agricultural stakeholders that it’s not just best practice that guides farmers but there are laws in place to ensure compliance.

"There is no question that growers need to comply with the laws around chemical spraying, and we support authorities in bringing to justice anyone who knowingly breaks the law."

However, Mr McKeon said cooperation between all growers and respect for what they produce should drive the best outcomes for all.

"We all share a love of the land and many grow a variety of crops. Nobody wants to lose produce because someone has been negligent in their spraying activities and it is the industry itself that can minimise damage."

The good news is that there are some simple steps that can be taken to minimise spray drift and keep your neighbours happy.

Know what to do

Read and follow label instructions – it is a legal requirement. Ensure spray applicators are fully trained and accredited.

Check the conditions

Monitor conditions before, during and after spraying. Do not spray when there is a surface temperature inversion – likely to occur between midnight and sunrise – or when wind speeds are very low.

Consider your neighbours

Notify them of your spray plan.

To drill down a bit further, I contacted industry expert, Mary O’Brien known to many by her Twitter handle, @spraydriftgirl and also spoke with a couple of leading SA farmers.

Mary works as a private consultant conducting spray application and drift management workshops around Australia.

She’s passionate about sustainable agriculture, in particular the protection of long term access to key products. Spray drift, application risk management, chemical use best practice and simplifying record keeping are Mary’s particular areas of interest. 

To this end she conducts workshops in spray drift risk management, assists clients with record keeping and legislative compliance, promotes chemical use best practice, and is a strong advocate for all sectors of agriculture.

Top 3 tips to keep spray drift low

Watch Mary O'Brien's three tips to reducing spray drift and how growers can implement best practice.

You can also download this Summer Weed Control: Best Practice Guide.

1. Timing and conditions
  • Avoid spraying when conditions are still or with high winds

  • Measure the weather and wind conditions on site before commencing spraying activity

  • Avoid surface inversion conditions when wind moving parallel to the earth’s surface can carry spray droplets much further than in the daytime

  • Surface inversions occur most nights in Australia therefor spraying after midnight is high risk

2. Nozzles
  • Check that nozzles used meet the label requirements

  • Will nozzles handle the desired water rate?

  • Is the spray quality produced appropriate for the product’s mode of action?

  • Will nozzles produce desired spray quality at the intended speed and pressure?

  • Changing nozzles is easy and reduces the potential for off target drift

3. Travel speed
  • Too low runs the risk of spray pattern collapse and overdosing when using residual chemicals

  • Increased speed and boom height have an exponential effect on the number of fine droplets left in the air that can drift off target

  • Slowing down can dramatically improve the efficiency of the job

Damien Sommerville, a farmer and spraying contractor from Burra in the mid north region of South Australia estimates he would spray around 30,00 hectares a year. 

"As a contractor we not only have to do the right thing but it’s important that we are seen to be doing it as well," he said.

"It disappoints me greatly when I see people not adhering to some basic, simple principles to apply chemicals correctly and make sure they stay in the target area."

Damien aims for a maximum speed of no more than 20 kmh as any faster causes an erratic spray pattern and makes it difficult to maintain boom height and to push spray droplets directly onto the canopy.

He agrees that understanding nozzles is key. Bigger drops are less moveable through the air and less likely to evaporate.

Timing wise, he doesn’t spray at night to avoid inversion conditions. His preferred time is from an hour after sunrise up to midday if the temp is not over 30 degrees C.

Robin Schaefer is one of the partners in Bulla Burra, a collaborative farming operation based around Loxton in SA’s northern Mallee.

As well as spraying approximately 40,000 ha a year he has the issue that parts of the farm are adjacent to residential areas as well as other horticultural and viticulture crops.

Monitoring the weather to avoid inversion conditions is important prior to spraying  but equally critical is monitoring conditions during the job’, said Robin.

Other key factors in reducing drift and maintaining good relations with the neighbors at Bulla Burra include using the right nozzles for the job, as well as correct boom height and speed.

Mid North and Riverland Mallee Mesonet

A relatively recent innovation that both growers use is the Mid North and Riverland Mallee Mesonet

This is a network of over 70 state of the art weather stations across both regions that provide information on wind speed, temperature and possible inversion conditions in real time.

Learn more

To find out more about products available to help your farm program, please visit

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David Evans

Mar 11, 2022

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