Flag the Technology – because accidents happen

We like to keep things simple ’round here, and this poka-yoke from Arkansas is both simple and effective. What’s a poka-yoke?

Poka-Yoke is a Japanese term that means “mistake-proofing”. It’s a mechanism that helps an equipment operator avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka) by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Yellow flags designate this field as a Clearfield rice field (Photo from UofA FSA2162)

Yellow flags designate this field as a Clearfield rice field (Photo from UofA FSA2162)

The problem: An aerial applicator has to spray a lot of fields. They consult their work orders, the plane is loaded, they spray and repeat. However, depending on which herbicide trait was introduced to which crop, accidents can happen. Imagine the mess when you spray a crop with glyphosate… and it isn’t a glyphosate-tolerant crop? This problem promises to become more of an issue as we introduce glyphosate+2,4-D and glyphosate+dicamba-tolerant crops. It may look like the right soybean plant, but you DO NOT want to mess up by spraying the wrong chemistry on the wrong genetics! You think a bit of residue in the lines can cause trouble…

Corn field with glyphosate (white) and glufosinate (bright green) stacked technology. (Photo from UofA FSA2162)

Corn field with glyphosate (white) and glufosinate (bright green) stacked technology. (Photo from UofA FSA2162)

The solution: In 2011 the University of Arkansas came up with a “quick and inexpensive” way to prevent this from happening. They used six-foot, colour-coded bicycle flags. Each colour or pattern represented a specific herbicide tolerance, as shown here. Aerial operators were given a copy of this visual key and the growers placed a couple of appropriate flags at the edge of the field on the approach vector at planting.

The result: Aerial applicators got one final check before they started to spray… just in case. In 2014 the innovative people behind this concept reported that it prevented countless acres of accidentally-damaged crops. Several (honest) aerial operators admitted to pulling up just before they started to spray because they realized there was a mismatch between what was in their tank and what the field was supposed to receive.

2016_Flag_the_techThe challenge: This is the kind of elegant, simple tool that we all should be using for ground rigs as well as aerial sprayers as we begin to plant more crops with stacked traits. Canada, the US, Australia, anyone using these genetics, could benefit. We should consider adopting this method, complying with Arkansas’ existing colour scheme and adding to it as required. Seed companies and agrichemical companies should find a way to bundle the flags with the chemicals and seeds for the buyer.

Read more about the Flag the Technology method from this University of Arkansas factsheet.

And one more time: “poka-yoke“.