by Chris Hicks, Smith County Extension Agent

Herbicides, which are chemicals designed to control weeds, are used by homeowners, farmers, utility companies, and a whole list of others to manage vegetation. While they can be a great tool when used correctly, I have noticed at least one weakness with them. That being, herbicides don’t recognize field borders. 

What I mean by that is an herbicide you spray on your field doesn’t know it wasn’t supposed to drift over to your neighbor’s field and land on his/her shrubs, tomatoes, roses, etc. When we speak of herbicide stewardship, we are referring to management practices that will reduce the risk of off-target damage. 

In short, you as an herbicide applicator are responsible for the chemical that comes out of your sprayer and where it goes. Here are a few points to consider before spraying:

  • Read the instructions on the herbicide label carefully and follow those instructions.
  • Be aware of the proximity of sensitive crops to the field being sprayed.
  • Pay close attention to the weather, including the amount and direction of wind. 
  • Be aware of potential run-off into sensitive areas.
  • Consider any future uses for the field to be sprayed, especially when using a product with residual activity.
  • Some herbicides are prone to volatize and can move to another location under certain weather conditions, even several hours after spraying. Be aware of the potential volatility of the herbicide to be sprayed. 
  • Make sure the sprayer is cleaned of residual herbicides, use the correct nozzles, and keep your boom height at the correct level.  
  • Keep good records of what herbicides are used, what fields are sprayed, when they were sprayed, and how often they were sprayed.
  • Consider using a drift control agent in your herbicide mix, but keep in mind these do not replace good management. 

Herbicides can be a great tool to control weeds, but the decision to spray is not one to take lightly. Off-target damage from herbicide can damage your relationship with your neighbors, and cost you financially if you are held liable. Practicing good herbicide stewardship isn’t a luxury to perform if you have time or of it’s convenient, it is an obligation.