Seed treatment products form a layer around seeds, protecting both the seed and the emerging seedling, shielding them from insects and fungal diseases. However, fine particles of these substances can rub off and be released into the environment during sowing. Now, Bayer researchers in Austria have co-developed a new technology to combat this problem: The AirWasher filters dust particles out of exhaust air, reducing dust emission that can harm bees and other beneficial insects.
// When pesticide-treated seeds are sown, dust may be released into the environment. This could cause potential risks for pollinating insects such as bees.
// Using water droplets, the AirWasher takes out 97 percent of chemical dust particles from the outlet air of planters.
// The AirWasher can easily be retred to existing ors and uses very little water.
During sowing, exhaust air is blown out from the machine. The principle of the AirWasher is to filter out potential fine dust particles from this exhaust air. To do this, water is pumped from a reservoir tank through a nozzle, and sprayed into the exhaust air in the blowpipe. Fine dust particles in the outlet air bind to the water droplets as they come into contact with them. Due to this process of trapping them, the water-bound dust particles are removed from the air which is exhausted to the environment. Instead, the particles drip down to the soil.
Systemic seed treatment is an efficient crop protection technology that works by coating seed with an ultrathin layer of plant protection product. The product keeps pests at bay during germination and then continues to protect the seedling as the treatment is absorbed through its roots. When sowing treated corn, sunflower and other crop seed with certain types of sowing machines, dust particles from the coating may be released into the environment.
Highly-developed technology used for the chemical coating and stringent quality management ensure that the treated seeds are resistant to dust-off. Still, it is impossible to completely prevent the formation of any dust from being released in certain crops, for instance corn. All sowing machines may release some dust into the environment but mechanical and pneumatic pressure ones release significantly less than pneumatic vacuum ones. The use of special dust protection systems is already mandatory in the European Union. Most farmers use ‘deflectors’ – adaptors or pipe connections that redirect the exhaust – so that, instead of being vented upwards, the exhaust air is sent beneath the vehicle and vented towards the soil (see also “Protecting Hungary’s Bees”).
After the exhaust air is redirected by the deflectors, air-born dust particles can then be trapped with water droplets in the same way that roadwork and demolition sites often prevent dust drifting by dousing heavily with water. Now this same principle is being applied in agriculture. Bayer experts in Austria have devised a new technology to reduce even further the amount of dust that is released from sowing machine exhaust air.
“We originally used the dust-binding method of road construction works,” says Karl Neubauer, Head of Development at Bayer, Austria.“Water is pumped out from a tank and sprayed. So we adapted this idea for farmers.” Building on existing deflector technology, Neubauer teamed with Dr Reinhard Friessleben and Armin Lind from the Application Technology team at Bayer, Monheim. Working with German agricultural nozzle manufacturer Lechler, the team developed a new, innovative technology: the AirWasher – a kit that can easily be fitted as an upgrade to deflectors currently in use on all conventional planters. “Deflectors already greatly reduce environmental dust emission, but the AirWasher removes considerably more dust from the air,” explains Neubauer. The AirWasher works by spraying the exhaust air from the planter with a fine mist of water. The water droplets mix with the dust particles and drain into the field.
Easy to add on: Conventional planters with deflectors can also be upgraded with the AirWasher technology. The kit (small photo above), which includes a tube and an electrical pump, is user-friendly and economical.
The Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) in Germany has been carrying out tests in comparison to a reference machine to determine how much dust can be emitted in a worst-case scenario when planting treated seeds. Their results show an enormous improvement in such a scenario by using the AirWasher: “In comparison to conventional planters with no dust protection devices, this new technology reduces dust emissions by up to 97 percent,” says Neubauer. Retrofitting existing deflectors with an AirWasher is both cost-effective and simple. And to further ensure that implementing this technology is economically worthwhile, the developers have also made the device particularly efficient in water consumption: Only around 15 liters of water would be required for a field of one hectare. This means farmers would only need to fill the AirWasher once a day.
The AirWasher technology is compatible with most seed treatment products, including neonicotinoids, some of which have been restricted in certain crops in the European Union.
Technologies like the AirWasher can make the application of plant protection products even safer as it ensures that chemical substances remain only where they are needed. Thus, potential exposure of the environment to plant protection products can be greatly reduced.
Karl Neubauer is Head of Development at Bayer in Austria. He is involved in the development and safety assurance of products and was part of the team behind the AirWasher technology from its inception.
Farmers need plant protection products to ensure good harvests and a secure income. With deflectors, and now the AirWasher, we have developed a way of providing outstanding plant protection while minimizing the exposure of bees.
Farmers mostly sow their seeds between mid-April and early May – a time when many early blossoming plants are growing and bees are active. This is a time of year when it is particularly important to keep dust emission to a minimum. The AirWasher can make an important contribution to this effort.>
The Dust Trap
In the ‘Zero’ Dust project, experts from Bayer are working to further reduce the generation and emission of seed treatment dust and, thereby, make sowing treated seeds even safer for pollinators and the environment.
On the Safe Side
Read more about the innovative technologies which are making the application of crop protection products even safer and minimizing risks for pollinators, in the Farming's Future article "On the Safe Side".