FieldWatch Makes for Good Neighbors

Syngenta proudly supports this nonprofit, which fosters communication between pesticide applicators, beekeepers and growers who produce sensitive crops.
FieldWatch Makes for Good Neighbors
Tony Rekeweg, a commercial beekeeper in Decatur, Indiana, recently answered a call from a number he didn’t recognize. “It was an aerial applicator who’d been hired to spray a fungicide on the cornfield about 20 feet from some of our hives,” Rekeweg says.

The applicator knew about Rekeweg’s beehives because he’d seen them on FieldWatch®, an online mapping tool that applicators can reference before spraying chemicals that could potentially harm bees. Equipped with the GPS information of Rekeweg’s hives, the applicator was able to make an informed decision on when to apply the fungicide.

“He was kind enough to spray at dusk, when our bees were already back in their hives and didn’t have to fly through the spray to return home,” Rekeweg says.

In addition to helping to protect bees, FieldWatch also helps protect sensitive crops, ones that are vulnerable to drift from chemicals like fungicides, herbicides or insecticides. For both beekeepers and specialty crop growers, FieldWatch’s premise is simple: They can log on to FieldWatch’s apps and register the location of their beehives or sensitive crops, respectively.

Meanwhile, anyone planning to spray a field can check for sensitive crops or hives nearby. Many times, applicators can help protect these crops or beehives if they take appropriate precautions, explains Stephanie Regagnon, who has served as FieldWatch CEO since 2016.

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“They might choose a different pesticide. Or if it’s windy, they might wait a day to spray,” she says. “Applicators generally know what their options are, so just realizing the big picture of what’s around them helps them to make an informed decision.”

For its users, FieldWatch is free and voluntary. “Across all the different pieces of the value chain—whether we’re talking about the applicator, the grower or the beekeeper—no one wants a loss of crop or to be faced with a lawsuit,” Regagnon says. “When we talk to applicators, they tell us they’re excited about a tool that can help them protect themselves and communicate with other people in the ag value chain. This is one tool in the toolkit to make sure we’re being good neighbors.”

From the Ground Up

FieldWatch got its start 10 years ago when an Indiana-based processor of Red Gold Tomatoes had a challenging year with drift. Frustrated with the chemical damage from adjacent farmland, the processor’s director of agriculture operations paid a visit to the agriculture biological engineering department at Purdue University and challenged its staff members to craft a solution. Their answer, an early iteration of today’s registry, was immediately popular with local growers. When neighboring states asked to join, FieldWatch spun out as a nonuniversity-affiliated nonprofit.

“That same director is still on our board,” Regagnon says. “Over the past 10 years, his drift claims have gone down an average of 80 percent, and the Red Gold company requires all of its contract growers to be in our system. The company takes the issue seriously, and FieldWatch has really helped them out.”

FieldWatch has since grown to include 21 participating states and one Canadian province. Today, users and applicators have more functionality than ever. The new FieldCheck® app allows applicators to locate specialty crop and hive locations from their mobile device or tablet.

“Applicators generally know what their options are, so just realizing the big picture of what’s around them helps them to make an informed decision.”

Stephanie Regagnon
And beekeepers can more easily update the locations of their hives through the BeeCheck® app. “Beekeepers often move their hives to find new foraging spaces,” Regagnon explains. “Once their hives are connected in BeeCheck, the locations are automatically updated on the map when the hives move.”

Opening Doors

From the beginning, Syngenta has been a trusted partner and financial supporter of FieldWatch. Caydee Savinelli, Ph.D., Syngenta pollinator and integrated pest management stewardship lead, sits on FieldWatch’s board of directors.

“I’m in the stewardship department at Syngenta, which helps inform growers about how to use our products correctly and according to the label,” says Savinelli, who adds that part of her job is helping growers understand how to use Syngenta products in a way that doesn’t cause harm to pollinators.

“As a board member, I attend meetings and hear the discussions and raise questions,” Savinelli says. Because the FieldWatch tools are so popular, the nonprofit regularly gets requests from nonagriculture-based organizations—from parks to endangered species sites—that would also like to register. Syngenta helps FieldWatch hone its scope and stay focused on its ag-based mission.

“When we grow into new states, Syngenta is key in making introductions and vouching for the program upfront to open doors,” Regagnon says. “And Caydee’s knowledge of the pollinator community helps us to better understand how to serve the honey bee community.”

FieldWatch’s success hinges on participation from all its stakeholders. “The only way we all play nice in the sandbox is if we’re all in the sandbox,” Regagnon says. “If we all cooperate, drift claims will go down. Our industry needs to rally around organizations like FieldWatch that are bringing different pieces of the industry together to work on solutions, increase stewardship, encourage communication and be good neighbors.”