Brown Farms planted signs in their Decatur, Illinois, fields last spring. The wooden markers identifying the soybean field as non-GMO or LibertyLink were visual reminders that the crop within was sensitive to certain herbicides.
This year the farm has the option of calling on the power of digital signs, as well, said David Brown, who farms with his brother, Joe, and son, Chase.
They plan to map their sensitive fields in FieldWatch, the largest national, map-based registry of specialty crops (DriftWatch), beehives (BeeCheck), and row crops (CropCheck). The non-profit company allows farmers and beekeepers to log their property boundaries for pesticide applicators to check before spraying. The services are free to all users.
Growers aren't the only ones looking to FieldWatch for protection. The federal labels for dicamba herbicides XtendiMax, Engenia, FeXapan and Tavium now require applicators to document and consult a sensitive-crop registry before spraying.
As a result, FieldWatch has seen a jump in users since dicamba-tolerant crops hit the landscape. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of pesticide applicators registered with FieldWatch doubled to 5,300, and the number of specialty crop and apiary sites jumped 77% to 32,000, said Bob Walters, director of business development for the company.
Thousands of producers have now mapped and labeled 34 different types of specialty crops in DriftWatch, from grapes and tomatoes to nurseries and greenhouses. It is available in 21 states and one Canadian province: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Saskatchewan.
CropCheck, which is launching for the first time this spring, will also be available in four states -- Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina and Arkansas. Walter says the company expects to see mostly non-DT soybeans and non-GMO crop fields registered initially.
"Our expectation is that we'll have at least 500 to 1,000 sites on it this year between those states," he said.
FieldWatch added a time-and-date stamp to the registry maps two years ago, when they learned applicators were taking screenshots of the registry to prove they had complied with federal dicamba label requirements.
And in 2017, the company created an app to simplify applicator use of DriftWatch and BeeCheck, Walters said. Applicators can pull the registries up on a phone or tablet and view specialty crops and beehives within 10 to 15 miles of their location.
FieldWatch's mapping and communication tools are free for all users. But they are also voluntary, particularly for sensitive crop producers and beekeepers. Although a state may participate in the registry, applicators cannot assume that all sensitive areas in their region have been registered and mapped.
The company relies on funding partnerships with other private firms, particularly agribusinesses like Bayer, Dow, BASF, Syngenta and Valent. They also receive support from companies that access their data and make it available to their own customers, like John Deere.
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
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