Communication is key to any good relationship, including business. FieldWatch, an online mapping service designed to help prevent crop damage and bee deaths due to accidental or unintended pesticide drift, aims to help improve communication between growers, beekeepers and pesticide applicators.
For the past year, department staff, with the help of N.C. State University and N.C. Farm Bureau, have been attending conferences, club meetings and other events to get the word out. And the outreach has worked. In the first year, nearly 1,000 producers, 1,300 apiaries and 66 pesticide users have registered.
“April marked the one-year anniversary of the program,” said Jason Williams, data steward for FieldWatch for North Carolina. “We are already well ahead of other states that have been with the program much longer. We have had some state directors for FieldWatch call to compliment us on our outreach and ask questions on how we were so successful with sign ups, especially among bee keepers.”
“We were concerned that during renewal we would lose a lot of the beekeepers that signed up for BeeCheck, the part of FieldWatch for beekeepers. FieldWatch requires participants to renew annually. But, we only lost about 50 apiaries through the renewal process, and we’ve gained most of them back by now.” To renew, a hyperlink is sent to the email address provided. Participants click on that link to renew.
Williams also receives phone calls from people who want to sign up but lack access to a computer. He has been able to enroll them right over the phone. “Most people typically have someone in the family with a computer that can help with sign up and, if wanted, sign orders. If not, the process is easy to do over the phone.”
“We are pleased with the response we’ve had so far to the program. Our goal for year two is to increase participation from specialty crop growers and pesticide applicators,” Williams said. “Applicators especially have this idea in their head that this is a regulatory thing. It’s strictly voluntary. We already regulate applicators. FieldWatch is a tool to help them avoid problems. If you don’t spray on specialty crops or bees, we probably won’t come visit you.”
As for pesticide applicators spraying for mosquitoes, the chemicals used for this can be deadly to bees. With so many apiaries in urban areas, this tool is a great resource.
Frank Fowler, vice president of McNeely Pest Control in Winston-Salem, signed his business up for FieldWatch. He found out about the program at the Winter Pesticide School. “We signed up for it because it is a good fit for us,” Fowler said. “We do a lot of mosquito spraying under our public health license and want to make sure there are no bee hives around when we use foggers.” Fowler had not heard of the program until seeing the booth at the training. He was eager to get his company signed up. “Any tool we have in our toolbox that helps us be a more responsible, environmentally-friendly company is a good thing.”
With the new auxin products being used, which many specialty crops are sensitive to, growers have even more reason to make sure their crop is clearly marked.
Conrad Draughn, a tobacco farmer from Mount Airy, recently signed up for Driftwatch, the part of FieldWatch for producers. “I grow 100 acres of tobacco that is sensitive to the new 2,-4-D product,” he said. “I wanted to mark my crop because it is sensitive to spraying.” Draughn signed up for Driftwatch after hearing about the program at a Good Agricultural Practices training workshop for tobacco growers. “It was very easy to plot my fields, especially after getting the first outline drawn,” he said. “I could use that to help plot the rest.”
“Our goal is to continue our outreach and grow our numbers,” Williams said. “Hopefully year two will have growers and applicators embracing the program just as much as our beekeepers have.
Growers, beekeepers and pesticide users can access DriftWatch and BeeCheck at www.ncagr.gov/pollinators. The website offers detailed instructions on how to sign up and use the mapping tools. Producers of high value specialty crops, such as tomatoes, tobacco, fruit trees, grapes and vegetables, can map their sites and provide contact information about their operation on DriftWatch. Using BeeCheck, beekeepers map their hives online using pins and half-acre circles and can choose which details of hive information are displayed on the map.
FieldWatch Inc. is a nonprofit company created to develop and expand the operation of the DriftWatch Specialty Crop Site and BeeCheck Apiary registries. This program was purchased with a grant from the N.C. Pesticide Environmental Trust Fund. It is part of the department’s ongoing efforts to protect and increase valuable pollinators in the state.