IT’S one of the most common agricultural applications to be found on farm but an international integrated pest management expert wants growers to rethink their approach to spraying in orchards.
Matt Strmiska, Adaptiv Consulting, brought more than a decade of experience in integrated pest and weed management to the Australian Almond Research and Development Forum and Field Day held in Loxton, South Australia, in late October.
Based in the heart of California agriculture where almonds rate as one of the top five agricultural products, Mr Strmiska specialises in teaching growers to spray more effectively.
“I think the missing link is the application,” Mr Strmiska told the forum.
“All too often we think it’s going along as how it should and maybe we don’t keep up with things that are changing, but it’s only one component.
“At the end of the day we have a crop to grow, pests to control and weeds to prevent.”
Mr Strmiska said the application of sprays would become a greater burden as consumer pressures on quality and less pesticides grew.
“Unfortunately I am yet to walk into an operation and the application is going perfect, very rarely it’s even good,” he said.
“As our consumer continues to demand better quality and less pesticides, the application is only going to become a greater burden on the growers, people who support growers and manufacturers of machines.”
Mr Strmiska, whose company has been working heavily with the navel orangeworm – the primary insect pest in almonds in California – said his consultancy aimed to be a “bridge between theory and practice”.
“We don’t make recommendations on chemicals or machines, but how things get done on farm,” Mr Strmiska said.
“We take a lot of theory that’s been proven or new theories and make it practical at the farm level.
“Regardless whether it’s disease, pest or weed we don’t try to determine the difference between tolerance and resistance.
“Unfortunately it’s becoming a fair bit of what we should be paying attention to because a lot of our management decisions are promoting either tolerance or resistance.
“I’m sure you have sprayed a pesticide and it’s not worked as well.
“So instead of doing something over and over I’m hoping to help you understand some of the whys.”
Mr Strmiska encouraged growers to be “methodical” about weeds.
“Weeds dramatically effect the crop,” he explained. “Weed control shouldn’t be left till the last minute.
“Be preventative with pre-emergents. Early onset is some of the best ways to stay ahead of the game. Spraying with pre-emergents is a key tool.”
Be very particular about your equipment even if it means you have to own more than you think you should.
Mr Strmiska said growers needed to start thinking more “surgically” about spraying as “reactionary” sprays almost always resulted in failure.
“We are always looking at equipment - one size doesn’t it all,” he told the forum.
“Be very particular about your equipment even if it means you have to own more than you think you should.
“Formulations have a huge effect on the outcome of our sprays.
“Sometimes cheaper materials are great on the pocket book initially but may cause a lot of pain and suffering later on.
“Make the complicated simple.
“We have set treatments – you know it’s coming. Plan for it and order materials ahead of time.
“With regard to calibrating, we all assume once or twice a year is enough but it’s not. Regular calibration is important.”
Mr Strmiska said spraying had a lot of factors, almost all of which the grower had no control over, but there were elements that growers could influence.
“We encourage key things that you can control at the right time,” he said.
“Pay attention to the weather – it has so much to do with optimum of our sprays.
“Ensure you are using full rates of pesticides and learn to spray based on the target or canopy structure, be in trees or weeds.
“There are three huge assumptions – that tractors are accurate, that soil pressure units are accurate and that the flow you think is coming out is accurate.
“These have an effect on the overall control and, therefore, how often you have to treat.”
Mr Strmiska urged growers to “rethink the meaning of good enough”.
“What worked 10 years ago was good enough – is it today?”