States Urge Farmers to Map Crops in Attempt to Protect Against Pesticide Drift

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 19, 2013.  The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is encouraging farmers to use a new mapping system in order to protect organic crops from pesticide drift, though few legal protections exist to actually stop drift from contaminating organic farmers’ fields. The system, DriftWatch, is meant to facilitate communication between growers and pesticide applicators by helping farmers identify locations of sensitive crops and pastures using Google Maps. Commercial fertilizer and pesticide applicators can then check the database to see where organic land and other sensitive crops/forages are in order to avoid applying chemicals in the vicinity of these crops.

Though the aims registry project are to promote awareness and stewardship activities to help prevent and manage drift effects from spray operations, as a voluntary program it does not provide much incentive for pesticide applicators to actually cut back on pesticide use. Furthermore, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a ruling last summer that initially considered pesticide drift from an adjacent property onto an organic farm a trespassing violation. While organic farmers may still seek relief from crops damaged by pesticide drift, the burden of proof required makes it more difficult to take these cases to trial, thus making it more difficult for organic farmers to be compensated for their losses.

In Minnesota, growers may register grapes and other fruits, vegetables, Christmas trees, and certified organic crops and pasture. Driftwatch is offered by MDA through a partnership with Purdue University. Minnesota is one of nine Midwestern states participating in the program. Other states include Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, there are 119 growers and 5,880 acres enrolled in the program; 2012 was the first growing season Minnesota used the system.

The program is not intended for homeowners, and participants must have at least one half acre of a certified organic or other qualifying crop in commercial production. However, pesticide drift is not only a problem for organic growers. Pesticide drift has been suspected in the tree deaths throughout the East Coast and Midwest. A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) finds that pesticide drift from conventional farming has poisoned thousands of farmworkers and rural residents in recent years. Pesticides can volatilize into a gaseous state and move over long distances fairly rapidly through wind and rain. Documented exposure patterns result from drift cause particular concerns for children and other sensitive population groups. Adverse health effects, such as nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches, rashes, and mental disorientation, may appear even when a pesticide is applied according to label directions. For more information on pesticide drift, read Beyond Pesticides’ report, Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass: Pesticide drift hits homes, schools and other sensitive sites throughout communities.

The best way to reduce pesticide drift and protect sensitive crops is to support organic agriculture at the check-out line. Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that does not rely on or permit toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or irradiation. For more information about the pesticides registered for use on foods we eat every day, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide, and the Organic Food program page.

Sources: Minnesota Public Radio, http://www.beyondpesticides.org 

Photo Courtesy Ben Alkire

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.