Just like many things since March of 2020, changes are in store for North Carolina’s mandatory auxin herbicide training in the coming year. Instead of large in-person seminars, the training will be given through a screen, whether that be a computer, a television or a projector screen in front of a small group.
The training is required for applicators who apply dicamba over-the-the top of dicamba-tolerant cotton or soybeans.* Simply put, they all have to be certified or licensed, said Patrick Jones, the deputy director for pesticide programs in NCDA&CS. It’s important to note that applicators will no longer be allowed to use dicamba over-the-top of dicamba-tolerant cotton or soybeans under the supervision of someone else who has the proper certification or license. In 2021, everyone who applies the herbicides has to have taken the training.
The ultimate goal is to prevent incidents of drift to susceptible crops.
“These dicamba labels are pretty extensive with lots of restrictions. With the susceptibility of the specialty crops in North Carolina it’s important for applicators to get this training to help them prevent any adverse effects or cause problems,” Jones said.
Updated herbicide label information, including “cutoff dates” or “use dates” for 2021 will be covered as well. Other details in the hour-long training range from spray nozzles, pressure and wind speed to record keeping.
Since the training was first required in 2017, it has been offered through dozens of group meetings set up throughout the state. 2018 saw the fewest training meetings with 33, while 2019 had 44. On average, 2,710 farmers or other applicators have received the training each year.
In 2021, most of them will have to get the training through live video streams over the internet. There will be a few alternative options to be sure everyone can access the training, but the main focus has been setting up dates for live presentations over the online meeting platform Zoom.
“[Switching to virtual online training] has been a little overwhelming – not the training itself, which is pretty much the same, but the logistics of how we’re going to train a large number of people who aren’t used to some of this technology,” said Dr. Charlie Cahoon.
Cahoon and Dr. Wesley Everman are the Cooperative Extension specialists who present the training.
Now twelve separate Zoom sessions are on the schedule. Cooperative Extension offices across the state will be able to host small groups of ten or fewer people to watch the training presentation live over the internet feed. Local agents will handle the logistics of logging into Zoom and setting up video stream to be viewed.
Local offices will also be able to decide how many Zoom training session they need to host for local applicators. For example, if a county only has five farmers who need the training, one session may be enough. Another county with 30 farmers and a few commercial applicators will likely need to host at least four Zoom training sessions.
“The reason we’re trying to be so flexible is because everything has to be done in small groups,” Cahoon said.
The logistics of planning the Zoom training sessions has brought a different set of challenges for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, which provides the training. It’s been a bit of a tradeoff, Cahoon said. Instead of figuring out dates and times and coordinating large meeting rooms with local offices to present the training in person, the Extension staff has had to figure out how registrations and validations would work. That’s been a big challenge.
Jones said it’s important for the N.C. Department of Agriculture to make sure everyone who receives the training gets credit. It’s equally important to ensure the switch to online training doesn’t make it easier to bluff about getting the training.
So there will be three different ways to validate if someone watched the online Zoom training sessions, Cahoon said. (1.) Each person who tunes into the training – whether from a small group at an Extension office or from a personal computer – will need to register for the Zoom meeting, enter his or her pesticide license number and county. (2.) Each Zoom session will have a participation report. (3.) In the Zoom chat box, there will a link with a few short questions about each participant’s name, date, time, county and license numbers.
Anyone who doesn’t attend a live stream of the training on Zoom may also watch a pre-recorded video or they can get the training from a local extension agent who will have access to the training presentation slides. Cahoon said he still hopes the live presentations will be the top choice, and he wonders if the online setting may even have some advantage over the in-person presentations of past years.
“I’ve noticed with virtual meetings, people are more comfortable asking questions,” he explained.
Cahoon and Jones believe the training has helped North Carolina reduce the number of drift incidents in the state. In 2017, there were 13 formal complaints about damage. In 2018 and 2019, there were six each year. In 2020, there were some investigations of drift damage, but no official complaints were filed.
“A lot of states have had a tremendous problem with drift, but we’ve been able to do better in North Carolina,” Jones said.
Both men say while other factors have also helped, the training has been a part of cutting down on those herbicide drift damage complaints.
More information about the training can be found in the pesticides section of the NCDA&CS website at https://www.ncagr.gov/spcap/pesticides/auxin.htm.
*Note that the training is no longer required for North Carolina applicators who only apply 2,4-D. However, 2,4-D will still be covered, so it is still encouraged. Also, the training isn’t required for applicators who use dicamba for purposes other than cotton or soybeans, such as pastures or turf.