Avoid top herbicide application mistakes

food plots
Food-plot planters need to choose the right herbicide, set the right spray concentration and apply it correctly. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Pick the right chemicals for the job at hand, then make sure they’re applied correctly

Food plots are wonderful projects for landowners with anywhere from 50 to 5,000 acres under control. They can provide native wildlife with a wealth of benefits across the seasons. And they can provide landowners with a sense of satisfaction when the greenery fills up with wildlife.

But managing a successful food-plot program can be easily derailed anywhere along the process. It’s tough to control Mother Nature’s unpredictable ways. But unfortunately, most food-plot failures result from human error somewhere along the way. One of the chief sources of failure comes from herbicide management.

Herbicides are crucial for the success of any cultivated crop, from a large-scale soybean farmer in the midwest to the guy from Stanly County, N.C., with a ½-acre clover plot. Herbicides enable growers to control non-target vegetation in their fields. With a long growing season, generous rainfall and fertile soils, the Carolinas are prime grounds to grow crops. But non-target plants have the same opportunities, and they will take advantage of them. Herbicides are essential components to any agriculture program. They can be a godsend if used appropriately. But they can also crush dreams if used the wrong way.

The right choice

The most-common mistake for a new food plotter is selecting the wrong herbicide for the job. Herbicides are far from created equal. Landowners must select specific herbicides with the end in mind. The three basic types include non-selective (broad spectrum), selective pre-emergent and selective post-emergent.

Non-selective herbicides are generally intended to kill all plants: grass or broadleaf. The most-common non-selective herbicide is glyphosate, aka Round Up. Non-selective herbicides are typically used for killing all vegetation before planting or are sprayed on existing crops of glyphosate-resistant strains of soybeans, corn or alfalfa.

Selective pre-emergent herbicides are typically added to the soil and are active there for an extended period of time. Selective post-emergent herbicides generally function through foliar applications and are only active when a target plant gets exposed at the time of application. These pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides are selective to either grass or broadleaf plants and are chosen to control the opposite of the planted crop. For instance, herbicides that control broadleaf weeds can be sprayed on crops that are grass types like wheat and rye.

Apply correctly

The next most-common mistake is a misguided application of chemical to the spray area. Herbicides are concentrated chemicals that typically come in a liquid form and must be applied evenly and at the right concentration. It’s easy to read the label and determine a use-rate of three ounces per acre. One can easily determine how many ounces are needed for the area or square footage of their plots.

Problems arise during the application process. Most small-time food plotters are unsure of the flow rate of their equipment. And even when they understand the flow rate, the speed of application must be controlled accurately to facilitate even application across the area.

The best way to remedy misguided chemical application is to conduct test runs with a tank filled of water to familiarize oneself with the equipment and how long it takes to empty a tank over a specified time period per unit of area. Of course, the equipment must be calibrated, but the person applying the chemical also needs his own calibration, and a few tanks spraying water can be the perfect solution to this common folly.

Poor environmental spray conditions are another leading cause of herbicide folly. An even application of chemical is required to produce optimum results, and environmental conditions can affect application consistency. Choosing a poor application day is a top reason for poor herbicide results. It’s not always easy to pick the perfect day when it’s time to spray herbicides. But there are definitely some days that spraying should be avoided.

Choose your days

Windy days produce excessive drift and an uneven application. A perfect scenario would be a day without any wind. Choose days when winds are predicted to be 10 mph or less.

Temperature and humidity can also make a difference in target and non-target species effects. Temperatures in the 70s and low 80s with high humidity are a killer combination for spraying herbicides. Herbicides tend to be more effective on warm, moist days than cold days or periods of low humidity.  The warm temperature promotes respiration of targeted vegetation, and the high humidity provides adequate moisture for chemical transport and to prevent damage to non-target vegetation. Excessively hot, dry days can be tough on non-target vegetation or the crops that are being enhanced with chemical application.

Improper maintenance techniques are another leading cause of herbicide failure. Even though herbicides are liquid products, they can gum up spray nozzles, pumps and hoses when not flushed out thoroughly. These chemicals will dry out and form solids inside the equipment, causing issues during the next treatment. More important, the residual chemical from a former spray application may cause harm to the area treated next. Tanks must be flushed thoroughly using the triple rinse method, and all nozzles should be flushed excessively to insure a full cleanout.

Monitor results

Finally, an effective herbicide platform needs a planned, post-application monitoring program. Herbicides aren’t worth the time and expense if they don’t control the weedy invaders effectively. Weeds come in a wide range of forms; some are much more resistant to herbicides than others. Herbicide application rates are listed in ranges, and sometimes it takes a stronger application rate to kill certain plants.

Regardless, food plotters should monitor the fields a week to 10 days after application to see the effects of the application. Sometimes spot treatment is warranted, or sometimes a total re-treatment is necessary. Evaluation of the treatment after the fact should be part of every food-plot herbicide program.

Herbicides can make a dramatic difference in the productivity of food plots. But mistakes can easily lead to dismay. Care should be taken to avoid the common application mistakes in herbicide treatment programs.


Always use PPE when spraying chemicals

Herbicide treatments are a large part of any food-plot program. However, they are dangerous chemicals that can kill you quickly or over a period of time depending on the level of exposure and the type of chemical being used.

All chemicals should be treated with extra caution to prevent exposure. And personal protection equipment (PPE) should always be used when handling and applying chemicals to food plots, roadsides or anywhere else on the hunting land.

Even though herbicides are created for foliar destruction, they are extremely harmful to humans. People can be exposed to these harmful chemicals through direct, liquid contact or from chemicals in an aerosol form. They are generally sprayed into a fine mist that can be inhaled or end up in the eyes.

Gloves and long-sleeved shirts should always be used when pouring chemicals into tanks, and full protective gear is recommended when spraying: long-sleeve clothing, long pants, gloves, hats, eye protection and a protective face shield.

After spraying and handling chemicals, the applicator should always change into different clothes before heading home, and clothes should be washed thoroughly to remove any residue. Disposable PPE can be used. Several companies offer inexpensive PPE equipment for a few bucks that can be used for spraying herbicides that can be disposed of after use. Personal protective equipment is a must and should always be used for spraying herbicides.

Jeff Burleson
About Jeff Burleson 1413 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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