AMES, Iowa — Pesticide drift is a serious threat to Iowa’s fruit and vegetable farmers. Unlike corn and soybeans – the target crops for herbicides, fungicides and insecticides – fruit and vegetable crops are eaten directly by people. If pesticides intended for corn or soybean fields drift onto those vegetable fields, fruit and vegetable farmers are forced to destroy their crop.
“When we hear spraying, it makes my blood pressure go up,” says Andy Dunham of Grinnell Heritage Farm. The farm, which he owns and operates with his wife, Melissa, has been hit with pesticide drift twice in the last 10 years. Those two incidents caused significant damage and ended in settlements with the applicators’ insurance company. But he says if a pesticide applicator sprayed when the wind was blowing toward his land, his entire farm could be contaminated with one pass of an airplane.
No one wants pesticides to drift – neither fruit and vegetable farmers, nor row-crop farmers or the pilots hired to apply the chemicals. To help educate farmers on how to prevent and cope with drift, Practical Farmers of Iowa has compiled a slate of resources for farmers on how to prevent it, from information on the law regarding drift, to templates on how to report it, to case studies and presentations, among others. The resources are available at practicalfarmers.org/pesticide-drift.
Most recently, Practical Farmers released a series of YouTube videos about pesticide drift from the perspective of two fruit and vegetable farmers – Andy Dunham, and Rob Faux of Genuine Faux Farm, near Tripoli – who have suffered drift on their operations. “We put a lot of ourselves into the farm,” Rob says, “and I don’t think that’s untrue of other farmers growing other things.”
Pesticide drift damages fruit and vegetable farms
Each three- to five-minute video captures a different element of why drift is a problem and how it can be prevented. Fruit and vegetable operations are sensitive to pesticide drift in part because they raise high-value crops: Drift on a small area can have a big financial impact on an operation. Many of these farms are also organic, meaning drift could cause them to lose organic certification for a three-year period, significantly impacting the revenue they can generate from their crops.
The farms also have employees in the field daily, as growing fruits and vegetables is labor-intensive. The health of those workers is at risk when pesticides drift, and they have to head inside when spraying happens nearby. “They are in danger, potentially, if somebody is applying chemicals and not watching where they’re going,” Rob says. “We’d like people to be paying attention just as much as we are.”
Additionally, many of the crops grown on fruit and vegetable farms are pollinated by insects, and drift can negatively affect populations of pollinators as well. You can find these videos and many others at youtube.com/pfivideos.
Communication is the key
Liz Kolbe, horticulture coordinator for Practical Farmers of Iowa, says there are a few things fruit and vegetable farmers can do to prevent drift, such as registering their farms on Field Watch at driftwatch.org. This website contains a map applicators can check regularly to identify sensitive crops. The most important thing, though, is getting to know everyone involved. “Get to know your neighbors, the co-ops who will be doing the applications, and let them know that you have sensitive crops,” Liz says.
It’s important to remember that pesticide drift is illegal. Each agricultural chemical is labeled for specific uses, and off-label use is strictly prohibited. The laws surrounding agricultural chemical usage are enforced by the Pesticide Bureau of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
Anyone aware of incidences of pesticide drift is strongly encouraged to report them by calling the Pesticide Bureau at (515) 281-8591 or emailing them at email@example.com. For more information on how to report drift, visit iowaagriculture.gov/pesticides.asp.
— Practical Farmers of Iowa
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