Friday, August 17, 2012

It's Not Just the Organic Certification...

We continue to process how we have to do things on the farm after the spraying incident.  We realize this has taken an inordinate amount of our time in blog space and other communications.  But, it is an important issue.  It is especially important that you understand WHY we are taking this so seriously.

At this point, sympathy is not needed.  Instead, we need people to take some time to read/listen and understand.  We need you to get informed enough so that some change can happen because living in Iowa is not supposed to be equivalent to living in fear that someone will spray you with chemicals and then fly away.

Organic Certification
It seems unfair on the surface.  We didn't do the spraying, yet we lose organic certification on the fields that were hit for three years from the point of the spray incident.
But, this is why I signed up for organic certification.  It should mean something.  Just because I didn't MEAN for it to be sprayed doesn't make the fact that it WAS sprayed change.  Things grown in that field simply cannot meet organic certification levels.  Period.
We believe in organic certification.  We abide by the rules because we think they are right.  If we don't report because we fear the loss of certification, we undermine what the whole process stands for.  Then it will mean nothing.
In the end, we are content that loss of certification for three years is correct and as it should be.  This does not imply that we are ok with the event that caused the loss in the first place (of course).

Food Safety
This is one of the things that upsets us the most.  The chemicals sprayed on these crops were not intended for the food crops we were growing - especially not at the time the spraying occurred.  These chemicals were not intended for human consumption.  Some of the numbers that came back from the lab from samples collected 3 days after the event were easily 10 times maximum levels allowed for conventionally grown veg.  Others more, some less.
One chemical is systemic, which means the plant will absorb it and it will continue to be in the plants system for some time after the event.  If none were systemic, it might have been a simple matter of "soaking the area down" and removing all fruit that were on the plants at the time of the spraying.  That would still be a big hit.
We pride ourselves in growing safe, quality food for our use and your use.  This food is not safe.  None of us will eat it.  We will not feed it to our birds.  We will place it in the compost pile that was sprayed and encourage Mother Nature to break it down for us.
So, the reality is this.  All food crops that were scheduled to be harvested from our Southwest field and the high tunnel tested with high levels of these chemicals.  They will all be removed, along with all plant vegetation.  We'll till the fields, put cover crop in some and probably put something new in the high tunnel after we run overhead watering over bare soil for a period of time.

Our understanding at this time is that the FAA grants a great deal of leeway (exemptions) for crop dusters.  About all they can or do enforce is that they should always maintain the ability to crash land safely.  They HAVE however, taken interest in the fact that Rob was physically hit with spray.

It is our belief that the FAA may need to revise these rules for crop dusters since it is becoming apparent that they cannot handle these exemptions responsibly or safely.

Lab Report Results
We were able to talk with someone at the lab to help us interpret the results.  The lab (without prompting) indicated that we must have been hit directly to have levels as high as the readings given.  Remember - these were samples that were taken three days later.  They agreed that we should give up the crops that were existing at the time of the spraying.  They also agreed that we could consider Fall and Winter crops in the high tunnel with no concerns about the food's safety. 

What are we doing with respect to our claim?
We will give much less detail here until we know better what our strategy will be from our legal representative.  Suffice it to say, we have identified the lawyer we feel comfortable with.  The first step is likely a 'pre-demand' letter to let the parties involved know that we incurred a loss and that we intend to file a claim for damages.

What are we doing with respect to social and policy change?
We are trying to formulate some coherent idea as to what we think could or should be changed so that what happened to us (and to others who have told us their stories) doesn't happen again.

this is where you can help.

First step - help us by discussing policy changes that are
  1.effective changes to reach our goal
  2. passable in a state where it is unlikely that the use of chemicals for commodity crops will be banned.  We understand the feeling of wanting to just get rid of them, but we have to admit that an all or nothing approach will likely result in nothing - which is not acceptable.
  3. reasonably encapsulated for clarity and understanding so that public support can be won.

Starting points:
  Here are our starting points
1. Fields that are to be sprayed that abut a property where someone other than the farmer responsible for the spraying lives will require a spraying setback.  That setback will be larger for aerial spraying.
2. The owner of any registered adjacent property with a listing of any sort in the sensitive crops directory must be contacted 24 hours prior to the spraying event, whether it is ground or aerial.  A list of the chemicals to be applied and their rates and application method must be given.
3. The sensitive crops directory should be expanded to include food crop designations, spray free pasture designations, designations for pastured poultry or other livestock and perhaps other agricultural endeavors that I am not currently thinking of.
4. All aerial sprayers must be equipped with a GPS system that records exactly where chemicals were dropped.  These records should probably be filed either with the Pesticide Bureau or some other public body and made accessible to interested persons (usually bordering property owners).
5. The owner of the property to be sprayed or their representative should be on site at the time of the application of the chemicals.
6. Those responsible for the application of the chemicals must be aware of all use label precautions and be held responsible for any application that fails to follow the use label recommendations.

This is a starting point.  We are working on more detail, but invite discussion here.


  1. isaac9:45 PM

    Could the FAA designate a field marker viewable from above or ground level that represents a no spray zone? You could use this to identify the border of your fields and hopefully prevent mis-spraying or any kind of aerial dumping.

  2. Anonymous11:58 AM

    I'm going to send an email with a document attached. I live inside Waverly city limits where aerial spraying is done just off my back yard and will continue to be done even though the field is smaller and smaller as the housing development fills more and more lots. I hear the airplane and go inside. Pat Coffie

  3. I think number 6 is required by the state in whatever education and certification they require for handling chemicals. I will check with someone who went through that education. Erika

  4. Erika, yes - I believe #6 IS. The problem is, it is not enforced or followed. Case in point, the rep from the coop that contracted the flyer could not site any specifics from the use label regarding our safety. So, maybe "held responsible" is the key.

    Pat, and what bothers me about this is that you MUST go inside. Why should you? It is your yard. They should not be allowed to do something that forces you to flee your property.

    Isaac, there are signs that are placed at an angle. The problem? They need to already know about obstacles (such as our farm) and they need to have it on their flight plan before they leave the airport. They fly 10 to 15 feet over the deck (top of the crop) at 120 to 140 mph. A sign isn't going to do much in this case. We're considering painting something on one of a building roof.

  5. I think #2 should be 48 hours. Given how busy farmers are, they may not check messages/mail/etc. so 48 is more reasonable. Erika

  6. Passing this along from a friend- she mentioned the recent incident where someone sprayed crops to stop bugs, redwing blackbirds ate the bugs and died. Was on the news. Also the recent spraying of Amish fields that seems to be impacting their children. Erika

  7. I also think you should make an economic argument. By spraying someone else's land, those chemicals are "wasted" since the farmer paid for them but they were not put on his/her crops. That might be an argument that people would listen to given the economy. And you're right- I think it comes down to responibility and accountability. There are so many layers here- who is responsibile to whom and who is ultimately accountable? Can we step up enforcement of laws or regulations that do exist- if they do in fact exist? Erika

  8. What about accountability? Would crop dusters and the people who hire them be held equally accountable? Are there additional parties that would be responsible?
    I also agree with making #2 48 hours instead of 24.

  9. Jo Foster11:49 AM

    I'm addressing point #1. Before reading the list I also was thinking about the setback idea.
    My idea is related to economics too.

    How about a setback that is treated in a similar manner as CRP land? The farmer with the crops to be sprayed has to create a setback (as suggested in #1); compensation for this untillable land is handled in a manner similar to CRP land, i.e. the farmer is paid something for the crops he could not plant due to reassignment of the land. Some farmers are currently tilling up CRP land when its 15 years are up; here is another incentive to create buffers.

    If this setback occurs then the buffer will be receiving drift, so plants and animals in the buffer will be affected, but if the aerial spraying is stopped at the end of the crop, at least some of the buffer won't be hit.

    One other comment: spraying is not legal on windy days if the drift will go over known sensitive areas, yet people still do it. I'm guessing this is because there aren't enough regulators to monitor everyone on the same day. I bet that the IDALS folks won't receive more tax money for more regulators in the field, but if they demand accounting for days of spraying and report the weather then perhaps people will be more careful (or do they already require that?)

  10. Ok. 48 hours makes sense. Agreed.

    Jo, regarding regulators, etc. The regulators depend on the citizen to make a report. There are inherent problems with that.

    1. Lack of knowledge with respect to whom you contact. Attempts may get made with no satisfaction because none of the right contacts are made. The result is a citizenry that is upset, but unwilling to do the runaround to make a report. No report is made, so the problem is not known to the regulator.
    2. Perceived punishment of the reporter. For example, an organic farm gets sprayed - if they report, they lose organic certification for three years. What is the incentive to report if all you perceive that happens is YOU get punished?
    3. There are oversprays where there is no witness of the actual event. You cannot rely on the flyer to make a report (what incentive would they have). There is evidence of overspray in these cases, of course, but many people have no good way to be sure.

    Keep up the discussion. It is useful and appreciated.

  11. Disa,

    Good point. Personally, I think all parties are responsible - from the grower to the sprayer.

  12. This might be pushing too far, but it seems like if you have to take your land out of production, the neighboring farmer ought to lose some land for the same period, if only to ensure that the overspraying doesn't happen again. Even if you had a quarter mile buffer around all fields taken out of production, that could affect a neighboring farmer enough to give him/her an incentive to care about what the contractor does.

    I hadn't thought about your point about organic farmers getting punished for reporting these cases, but that seems beyond unjust. Could there be a baseline cost per acre calculated for organic farms suffering this kind of event that would ensure a certain level of liability for the contractor? I realize the diversity of organic farms would make this difficult to calculate, but if you could say something like $5,000 per acre per year (pulling that number out of thin air), then the organic farmer would have an incentive to report it and the contractor would have an incentive to avoid it. And in the case of overspray, it wouldn't be a government subsidy, it would be the contractor who would have to pick up the tab.

    I like the GPS idea and the addition of witnesses.


  13. Josh,

    Regarding lost value for organic certification. Yes, part of the suit you can bring when asking for compensation can include value differences due to this loss. Nonetheless, there are issues such as lost market recognition during the three years you do not have certification. A number could be placed on it. But, what gets lost most in the shuffle of trying to assign numbers are the intangibles.
    Re: buffers. I do think every farm field should have a required buffer strip, organic or not. I also tend to believe we should enforce buffer zones in fields every so often. In effect, making certain there are no fields over a certain size. I realize this would not be looked on favorably by larger farms that have invested in the huge equipment.



Thank you for your input! We appreciate hearing what you have to say.