National cotton crop threatened by off-target spray drift

Friday, 8th January 2016 // Breaking News, Media Releases, Featured // Comments (0)

Off-target spray drift incidents have swept across Australia's cotton industry, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage and threatening farm businesses.

  • Worst spray drift to cotton in living memory
  • Spray drift damages 20% of the cotton crop, at least $20 million to date
  • State agencies putting officers in the field to investigate

Off-target spray drift incidents suspected to be from fallow sprays were recorded in all cotton-growing regions in NSW and Queensland in the past month, causing damage to valuable cotton crops. In the vast majority of incidents, the damage was caused by Phenoxy (2,4-D-type) spray that travelled during temperature inversions – in some instances, moving tens of kilometres from the intended target fields.

“Unfortunately, environmental conditions over December-January have combined to produce a 'perfect storm' for off-target spray drift damage,” says Cotton Australia CEO, Adam Kay. “Heavier-than-usual seasonal rainfall has encouraged weed growth which, in turn, led to more spraying by farmers and applicators, and this has combined with temperature inversions to produce substantial off-target spray drift.”

“I've been in the cotton industry for 30 years, and this is the worst year in memory for spray drift damage to cotton crops, so we are taking this issue extremely seriously.”

“At least 60,000ha of cotton has been damaged already this season, which represents more than 20% of the entire crop. We estimate financial impact of this damage to be more than $20 million, and the season is only half-way complete. Every cotton-producing area in Australia has experienced damage, and in some regions the damage to individual crops has been severe.”

“Most cropping farmers rely on Phenoxy (2,4-D-type) products and apply them safely and responsibly, but a few careless individuals and spray applicators are jeopardising the use of these products for everyone.”

Mr Kay says the national chemical regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), was aware of the severity of the issue, and is currently conducting a review of 2,4-D pesticide and an assessment of environmental risks.

“With a review of Phenoxy (2,4-D-type) pesticide in place, additional scrutiny will be brought to bear on the use or misuse of these products, as the case may be,” Mr Kay says.

“We have also been in contact with state regulators in NSW and Queensland, the NSW Environmental Protection Agency and Biosecurity Queensland. These agencies will be putting inspectors into the field to investigate the causes of these spray drift incidents, and will share their findings with the APVMA for assessment and regulatory action.”

Mr Kay urged cotton growers to report any damage suspected to have been caused by off-target spray drift.

“Without reports of spray drift incidents, it is almost impossible for state regulators or the APVMA to take further action, and so we urge all growers, agronomists and consultants to file a report as soon as spray drift damage is observed,” Mr Kay says.

Cotton Australia is working with other industry groups, including grain and pulses growers, plus federal and state regulators to warn all farmers of the risks of off-target spray drift.

Farmers should use this checklist when preparing to use herbicides, particularly Phenoxy (2,4-D-type) products:

  • Read and follow label instructions – it is a legal requirement
  • Monitor weather conditions before, during and after spray application
  • Use a nozzle that produces coarse or larger droplets
  • Check for cotton fields that could be potentially impacted by your 2,4-D spray
  • Notify your neighbours – even during reasonable conditions for spraying, some spray droplets could travel up to 20km or more if the spray equipment is not used correctly, and even further in some instances of unfavourable conditions, such as during surface temperature inversions or night-time spraying. Information on inversions is available at:
  • Minimise boom height when spraying
  • Ensure spray contractors are fully trained and accredited

Cotton Australia urges growers whose crops have been damaged by off-target spray drift to call the relevant authorities in their state to report it:

  • NSW: EPA Environment Line:  131 555
  • Qld:  Biosecurity Queensland:  13 25 23

Cotton Australia is the peak representative body for Australia’s cotton growing industry.

Cotton Australia media contacts:

Adam Kay - CEO, Cotton Australia
0437 695 222 

Michael Murray - General Manager, Cotton Australia
0427 707 868

Chris Larsen - Communications Manager, Cotton Australia
0488 189 502


Download this media release.