Monday, July 30, 2018

Pollinator Paradise in Crisis

Tammy and I have been growing at the Genuine Faux Farm since 2004.  Prior to that, we did our fair share of gardening.  We'd like to think that we have some idea what attracts pollinators.  We'd also like to believe that we know when pollinator numbers are lower than they should be.

Folks.  The numbers are low and they are declining on our farm.  We suspect this is also true throughout the state of Iowa and probably most of the world today. 
We have not seen this type of black honey bee on the farm before.
 While it is true that we do continue to observe many interesting creatures on our 15 acres of "Pollinator Paradise" (or so we like to call it), we have been alarmed that we can work so hard to provide habitat and NOT see certain flowers swarming with all sorts of pollinating insects.

Note the honeybee on the flowers.
For example, we planted several Swamp Milkweed, courtesy of K&K Gardens in Hawkeye, Iowa.  Monarchs should like them, as should milkweed bugs.  While we have had some monarchs on the common milkweed on the farm, we've only seen a couple of honeybees on these new plants - even though the plants seem to be doing well and blooming nicely. 

At present, the oregano is in full bloom.  Oregano and many other flowering herbs are known to attract bees of all sorts and coneflowers are often listed as a good pollinator attracting plant.  Everything you read (and our own experience) tells us that diverse blooms over a long period of time should provide plenty of habitat to keep the pollinators healthy and happy.  And yet, there wasn't much of a buzz going on with the flowers I found in this picture.

The wind was light.  It was mostly sunny with some clouds to keep things from being too hot.  The temperatures were reasonable and I took this picture during a time of the day when past experience has shown me that pollinators would really be out an about.

I stood still for a while and waited to see if I was just not being patient enough.  Yes.  There were some pollinators in the patch.  Perhaps it is just a small patch?  Maybe not big enough to elicit a response?

You decide.  Is this patch big enough?

Not seen in the picture are the clover mixed in with the Queen Anne's Lace, the Rudbekia to the left and phlox further back and to the left.  And, that's just what is flowering now.  It's a good area for pollinators.  We've seen more activity in this area in the past.  So, something is going on here.

A native bee in the zinnia.
 The zinnias are just getting going and we know by experience that they are also very good at attracting a range of pollinators from bees to bumblebees to butterflies. 

It's not like we don't grow enough of them to make a difference (see one of our rows at the right).  We are particularly disturbed by the relatively low numbers of bumblebees this year.  We are pretty friendly to bumblers since we allow active nests to remain in a couple of our outbuildings.  Frankly, we are so worried about their decline that we wouldn't think of evicting them. 

Perhaps we will see an explosion of activity in August.  In fact, August is usually the busiest month on our farm for bumblebees and other native bees.  But, we still feel there is a problem here.

If you are not sold that there is a problem, consider this:
Zucchini and other squash are pollinated by Squash Bees (a native bee) and other bees (who are less efficient at pollinating than squash bees).  A squash flower needs to be visited 6 to 10 times by Squash Bees in the early morning to set fruit properly (more visits by other pollinators).  Our zucchini and summer squash production have gone down per row foot over the years as we have seen more instances of fruit that were not fully pollinated.  These fruit tend to not fill out properly or will yellow and rot off.  We have seen much more evidence of insufficient pollination the past three to five years in our summer squashes.

We will grant you that weather conditions can prevent visits by pollinators, so it is not unusual to have a period of time every season where there are more cull fruit due to poor pollination.  But, there is a difference between seasonal variability and trends across multiple seasons. 

We have been convinced that there is a problem that needs addressing.  One of our responses on our farm has been to increase the pollinator habitat and maintain it as best as we can.  Even with all of this effort, we fear we are losing the battle. 

What are the observations on other fronts?  We would love to hear from you.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

LilyPalooza 2018

 It is time for the annual LilyPalooza at the farm for 2018!  While the iris bloom was disappointing this year, the day lilies have picked up the slack and are giving us quite a showing.  It's interesting to note that certain day lilies are having a great year and others that had a great year in prior seasons are less happy.   Regardless, we're very happy with the diverse set of blooms we get to experience on our farm.

Some blooms have subtle coloring
While others are bold.
This is one of our largest blooms, much larger than our hand.
Some, like this one, stand out more when many flowers are open at once.  Though we won't say no to a single like this one.
But, the Oriental Lilies really prefer to show off all at once!

We've got some day lilies that have nicely ruffled petals.  They tend to bloom one to three at a time on a single plant.
We've added a couple over the years, that go all out at once.

This one may be the most stunning day lily this year.  I don't recall it blooming for us before.  Or maybe the light was just right?
Rocket City is having a great year and is one of our favorites.

It's actually unusual to find a coral pink day lily.  It had a great year last year and is a little off this year.

We like the idea of this one for a "mass planting" to show off from a distance.
And this one actually sparkles when the sun hits it just right.

Last year, this plant went insane with flowers.  This year, it wants us to know that it still cares, but it needs a break.  Overdid it a bit?
Thin petals?
Broad petals?

How about just some pink petals?

It's easy to overlook the coloring change at the throat of many day lilies.  Most seem to go to a yellow.
Speaking of yellow, it's hard to not like the traditional Hyperion.

What? More Orientals crashing the party?  Who said they could be here?
We hoped you enjoyed your virtual LilyPalooza tour of 2018.  For prior LilyPalooza postings, you can view our 2017 LilyPalooza and the 2015 Feast for the Eyes.  You might also enjoy this end of July Flower Tour in 2013.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Weed 'em and Reap

July is very much weeding season at the Genuine Faux Farm.  We certainly cultivate and weed in other months, but July always sees us pulling out the most volume of vegetative matter for our compost piles.  Some people might suggest that we should do better at staying on top of the weeds than we do and we would certainly agree.  However, if fields are too wet to work, then fields are too wet to work.  The net result is usually more weeds than you would usually like to see.  And, with a June that saw twice the normal rainfall on a schedule that rarely gave us time to cultivate, we were going to pay in July. 

A row of red cabbage (and napa cabbage on the far end), weeded and cultivated!
Typically, when we go out to do weed removal, we take one of our hayracks/carts out with various tools including wheel hoes, hand hoes, rakes and, of course, something to play a little music.  Rosie the tractor often makes an appearance with one of the cultivating implements and Barty (the BCS walk-behind) may come out to play as well.  The selection of tool depends on everything from the condition of the soil, size of the weeds, type of crop, available workers and inclination of the farmers.  Hand pulling always makes an appearance on the farm every July, despite our intentions to reduce that need.  All you have to do is look at the bed to the left of the cabbage.  There are supposed to be onions in there.  Ups.
There are always challenges in farming that have to do with the weather.  It's simply part of the job to deal with it.  But, sometimes you just look at things and ask if you even had a chance in the first place.  The fields above have melons and squash in them.  We had a small window in June to cultivate and we took it, using the Williams Tool Bar with squash knives to hit each bed as best as we could.  It was a hot, sunny day, which is usually a good time to cultivate as the weeds will die more quickly.  Sounds good, right?

Well, a thunderstorm popped up and dropped a whole lotta rain just after cultivation.  Yes, we knew there was a chance it would rain.  But, it rained buckets close enough to the point of cultivation that it just packed a bit too many of the weeds back on in so they could live.  This wasn't an issue for the between row weeds because the tines on the cultivator was able to work them all the way out of the soil.  But, the weeds in row?  Ya.  That's where hand-weeding comes in, I guess.

Even so, we continue to plug along and make progress.  Three of the six fields in the East are largely "under control" and the North and Southwest fields also fit the "under control" description.  Essentially, we'll get there.  Or we won't.  And, if we don't, we just mow it before weeds go to seed and tell ourselves there is always next year.  But, instead of letting that bother us, we go and look at some of these:

Yeah.  We feel better now.  And, we're looking forward to harvesting more from the fields we weed.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Conehead that (Almost) Came to Dinner

One of the benefits of working on the farm is that we do get to observe all sorts of interesting things in the natural world.  Lately, we've seen lots of frog and toad activity.  There are some Garter snakes that we see once in a while and we will sometimes see fox snakes.  These are all critters we welcome on the farm in part because they do find some of the pests that cause us problems to be tasty.  Even if that were not the case, none of these animals do any harm to us or our crops, so we are happy to see them add to the diversity of what is around us as we work outside.

Our most recent encounter was with a katydid.  But, to be more accurate, we think this was a katydid that is called the Slightly Musical Conehead

Rob was harvesting lettuce and brought the tub in for soaking and he found this critter sitting on top as he unloaded the tub from the cart.  I do not suppose most of our CSA members would have enjoyed having it pop out at them when they went to put some nice lettuce on a sandwich.  It could also be disturbing to see it cleaning salad dressing off of its antennae while it is perched on a slice of cucumber sitting on your plate.

When we envision a katydid, this is actually usually what Tammy and I think of, though there are around 200 different types of katydids in North America.  It actually turns out that the call of the Oblong-winged Katydid is the sound the two of us associate with katydids.  We have plenty of audible evidence that that sort of katydid also inhabits our farm in some numbers.  In fact, we have heard several others on our farm as well.  If you are interested, you can go here to learn more about their calls.
After initially trying to get away from Rob, it calmed down and decided to put itself into a "I am a leaf or blade of grass" position.  It was actually pretty convincing.  When it came time to put it down, it didn't want to leave.  But, we eventually convinced it that there wouldn't be much for it to eat if it rode around on the tractor.

Tammy and I have to admit that we've always thought of katydids as a predator insect.  In fact, many tropical katydids are predators.  The coneheads in Iowa, however, are at best an omnivore, preferring to eat leaves and grasses.  They will eat aphids and they will eat dead insects - so we could just call them opportunistic.  On the other hand, they are not known to cause any sort of significant crop damage and they would prefer the grasses in the ditch to most anything we would grow. 

In the end, we'll accept any bonus aphid predation the coneheads and katydids can provide.  Even it isn't much, we still welcome them as another sign of ecological diversity on our farm.  Now, if we could get some praying mantids to thrive on our farm.  That would be something.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


The number of people who have actually seen Rob wearing shorts, especially since he became a farmer and stopped playing volleyball, is a fairly small number.  But, the title of this blog post has nothing to do with wearing shorts.  Instead, it has to do with the fact that we have not put anything on our blog for a while and we need to put some thoughts out there.  So - we'll do a bunch of 'shorts' in one post!  How inspired!  Ok.  It's a cop out.  The farmer just doesn't want to commit to one topic.  That's just the way it's gonna be.

Why the gap in blog posts?
There is really a fairly simple way to determine why there have been relatively few posts as of late.  Look at the weather and ask yourself if there has been a chance for Rob to sit down at a computer.  There was one such opportunity over the last couple of weeks, but it was spent on other important tasks.  Maybe there was a second?  Essentially, during Summer months, Rob tries to write posts ahead of time and schedule their release.  Once those posts run out...

Energy Vampire
The recent drift incident on the farm (see a couple of prior posts) encouraged us to do our best to get people activated to pay attention to chemical applications around them.  The problem with this is that it assumes we have 'extra' energy to spend on this task beyond what is needed to do all of the farm work.  We wish we could do more on this AND we wish we had more energy to get everything done on the farm.  As it is, we just do what we are able and hope it is good enough.

Here is what we have shared on Facebook and on our CSA emails this week:
Support your farmers during NEVER AGAIN Week on the farm. July 27, 2012. July 29, 2017. June 27, 2018. These were all confirmed chemical misapplication situations on our farm alone. Agri-chemicals are tools that need to be treated with more respect and caution than they seem to be given currently. Drift and missed targets threaten our health, our workers' health and your health.
Be prepared to call the Pesticide Bureau if you witness chemical misapplication on the road as you drive, on bike paths as you ride, near schools, rivers or by your home. Make the problem known by taking time to act.
Pesticide Bureau

Compost Builders
The picture you see above is actually 'old news.'  Sadly, we've fallen down on the picture taking job.  Interesting enough, the last pictures I have on the computer came from our documentation of ... take a guess... the drift problem we had on the farm. 

Nonetheless, you can see Mount Evermess, one of our compost piles, towards the back of this picture.  Our compost piles have been VERY happy of late as we have been pulling a significant amount of weed matter out of our fields and placing it into our compost piles.  In fact, we started a new pile in the northeast today.  We're looking for a new name for this pile - so suggest away.

Just so you know, we have Mount Evermess and Mount Brushmore.  We had one we dubbed Mount Rain Here, but it started raining and didn't stop.  So, we got rid of that one.

Lilypalooza 2018
The daylilies are putting on a show at the farm right now and we hope to get some pictures to share so we can make our annual Lilypalooza posting.  We've been thoroughly enjoying these flowers, though we wish we had the time to weed some of the perennial beds so they looked better.

That actually leads us to:

Tom Sawyer Week 2018
In the past, we would host "Tom Sawyer Days" to try and give people an opportunity to volunteer at the farm.  Over time, that idea seems to have faded with many people moving on in some fashion or another.  We are still quite willing to host volunteers who would like to help out at the farm and the time is ripe for it.  We have lots of weeding to do, but there are other projects as well.  So, if you would like to help us make one of our daylily beds look absolutely spiffy, let us know!

One of the themes of our lives on the farm right now is that we are in the middle of pesticide/fungicide spray season for all of our soybean/corn growing neighbors.  That means many of our thoughts go to that topic - thus we can't escape it when we write.  I was tempted to apologize until I realized that people need to hear how much the threat of a misapplication can change my attitude and the day to day choices we make on the farm.

For example, we will not leave our farm unattended during this stretch of time.  In the interest of food safety, we have to keep an eye on applications of chemicals within a mile of our farm (sometimes further out on windy days).  This may well be a topic worthy of its own post someday.  But, think of it this way:

How many of you leave your house on a daily basis and think nothing about it?  What if you had a single neighbor who was infatuated with the color lavender and how it looks on stone bird baths?  What if they had a penchant for painting any stone bird bath lavender... whether they owned it or not?  You LOVE that bird bath, but you DO NOT want it to be lavender, so you re-consider that trip to the grocery store.  Or maybe one of you stays home to keep an eye on that lovely bird bath while the rest of the family goes to a movie.

Now, consider that we have multiple neighbors that like the color lavender....

Alas, now you see why I haven't been writing blog posts - I stooped to using bird baths and the color lavender.  What next?  I suppose I could tell you that I dreamed I was weeding the zinnias.  Or was I really weeding the zinnias?  Tune in next post and find out!

Monday, July 9, 2018

What We Ignore

You do this, I do this, we ALL do this.  Or should I say, we DON'T do this.  In general, we do NOT read labels.

Ok, we may be exceptions to the rule because we've put ourselves in a position where reading labels has a bit more consequence than it might have been if our lives had gone another direction.  But, here we are, reading herbicide labels yet again.  No, we have not decided to use herbicides on our farm - but that would have been the RIGHT reason for us to spend time reading an herbicide label.  That would have meant that we were researching a tool that we thought we might use on our farm.

These chemicals are poisons and are potentially dangerous if not managed correctly.

Warnings on the Atristar/Battlestar herbicide
Shown above is one of the chemicals that were recently used on a field near our farm.  It was applied with other chemicals on a day when the wind was strong and coming our direction.  You can read about those details here.

I will grant you that most every household is likely to have containers with warning labels that show at least as strong a warning as this label does.  I will ALSO grant you that there are numerous things that occur in nature that are every bit as (and more) dangerous than this particular herbicide.  But, in turn, you must grant me the good grace to admit that we do not want to see anyone coated with this product.  Fair enough?  That gives us a place to start.

Environmental Hazards from the Battlestar label
One responsibility that comes with using a tool is to use it in a way that it does its job without collateral damage.  Many agricultural chemicals are known to cause problems if they enter the water system.  If you don't think this matters to you, consider this: 20% of Iowa's drinking water comes from surface water.  While much of the rest comes from various aquifers, they too can be impacted by chemical run-off.  If it is not enough for you that allowing run-off harms other living (but non-human) beings, then maybe knowing it can get into our drinking water would be enough to encourage a person to be careful with the application of this item.  If it truly has to be all about you, then you are impacted if you like to boat, fish, swim and/or hike around Iowa's rivers and lakes.  But, it really should be enough to know that someone or something could be hurt to make you want to manage use of this chemical carefully.  I refuse to believe that many people willfully want to hurt others - though I know some people of that sort do exist.

Supposedly, it is against federal law to apply chemicals, such as Battlestar, in ways that go against the label requirements (see the first sentence under Directions for Use).  But, a law is nothing if there is no enforcement.  And, enforcement doesn't happen if people don't stand up and report when there are problems.  Frankly, I would rather not need to use enforcement because I'd like all applicators to take their job seriously and use these tools cautiously and well.  But, our experience tells us this isn't happening.

The other thing that everyone should notice is the 24 hour "do not enter" period for workers/humans.  This is called the Restricted Entry Interval (REI) on agricultural chemical labels.  If the chemical goes 'off-target' that increases the "Do Not Enter" zone to the drift area.  Applicators should be aware of who may be in the drift zone and they need to
  1. Cease application if they witness people in the spray zone
  2. Inform anyone who might enter the spray zone that they need to stay out and give them information about the chemicals used.
If it is hard to figure out whether or not there is a problem we want people to think of the "Loved Small Child Test."  If you are certain that little one you care for so much could be harmed if they are standing in a neighboring field, then all is well.  If you aren't so sure, don't risk it. 

The label says what should be common sense.  If the spray might go where it shouldn't, don't spray.  What else can I say about this?

Once again, the label is fairly clear.  Please note that the reference to wind speed in this is non-directional.  In other words, you just do NOT apply when the wind reaches these levels.  Prior to this, the labels indicate that if the wind is going in the DIRECTION of something that is sensitive, you should not spray.  But, once we get to 15 mph, you should NOT spray, period.  Why is this, do you think?  Could it be the chemical producers are aware that some of the chemical could go a LONG way in winds 15 mph and higher?  Now it may not be about the neighbor - it's the neighbors next to those neighbors (and so on).

There is more to this puzzle than just the current crops in the ground.  Chemicals that are applied can impact future crops.  After all, Battlestar IS an herbicide.  It's purpose is to kill or prevent the germination of anything except the cash crop currently in the field.

So, what happens when the chemical goes where it isn't supposed to be?  Take a look at the numbers at the right.  These are the number of months before you plant a new crop of certain types.

We lost our peas to a chemical application that included this chemical.  What options do we have to try to make something out of that space this year?  It looks like dry bean and snap bean are our choices.  Too late for potato (and they won't work in our rotation in that spot).  But, since the application occurred on June 29, we actually have to consider what we will plant next Spring.  It is possible there will be enough carryover residue that some seedings will have trouble germinating.

The labels include all sorts of nitty gritty, but not always details that will help if a crop that the produce was never intended for is drifted on.  In this case, we can see that Battlestar could potentially be used in snap and dry beans.  Apparently, this can be applied as pre-planting/pre-emergent or after the beans reach a certain size.  The beans could display some damage that they should 'grow out of' according to the label.

But, you still have to consider the set back periods for every crop.  Snap beans can not be harvested until 30 days after application and dry beans are 45 days.  These numbers are extremely important to people such as ourselves when drift occurs.  They are also one of the reasons drift can be painful.

If my snap beans are only 15 days away from harvest and there is chemical drift from Battlestar on them, that means that 15 days of what should be the production period of my plants are now not safe to eat.  I cannot harvest these and sell them.  Sure, I could sell them and pretend I didn't know.  But, if anyone gets sick, their insurance company will come to us for the money.  First, I don't want to make anyone ill.  Second, our farm certainly couldn't afford the results of illness due to sharing chemically fouled produce.

So, what do we do for 15 days of bean harvest?  Well, if we hope to harvest AFTER those 15 days, we have to keep the plants picked during those 15 days so they are encouraged to produce more beans.  And, of course, we would destroy the beans by composting.  We can't feed them to the chickens or other animals (note the additional information that you shouldn't let livestock forage on the plants).

Is that worth it?  Or should we plant new beans?  From a labor perspective, that's probably what we should do.  But, what do you do if you were counting on those beans in two weeks?

Why Did We Do This Post?
We believe part of the problem is that others do not understand exactly WHY chemical drift is a problem for us.  First and foremost, it is a FOOD SAFETY ISSUE.

Some might say, "hey, the leaves on your cucumbers had spots on them, but they look fine otherwise."  The implication is that we are over-reacting and that we should just continue as if nothing happened.  That's all fine until someone gets ill, I suppose.  But, you tell me, should we ignore it and give everyone cucumbers?

How would that be any more responsible than ignoring the label and spraying when drift is likely?

Second, and at least as important is that it is a PERSONAL SAFETY ISSUE.
These chemicals were not created with the intent that workers meander around in the fog of the spray without protective equipment on .  That should be doubly true for the family living on the edge of town in Janesville next to a soybean field.

That environment includes any surrounding crops, such as our peas and cucumbers.  It includes the waterways and natural areas (such as they are in this state).  It includes your garden and that beautiful "Love Lies Bleeding" plant that looked so good until...

While I still believe that we over-use chemicals in this world, I do tend to agree that the bigger issue is that we use them nonchalantly.  We didn't see anyone get violently ill immediately during/after the point of spray, so it must all be ok?

Let's get this fixed.  It is time.  Read these posts.  Do some learning.  Act on what is learned.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Remembering Half of It

One of the best things about our farm during the month of July is the farm crew (most years).  By the time we get to July everyone is starting to get a bit more comfortable with each other and the various senses of humor begin to show themselves. 

This year, we have the distinct advantage that both Caleb and Emma have been on the farm for three years and Sophie is no stranger to the farm either.  Then there are the two farmers, Rob and Tammy, who seem to be around all of the time as well.  As a result, we may have had a head start on the silliness that can happen despite bugs, heat, rain or silly people who spray in the wrong places at the wrong times.

We still make references to "Horned-fanged bats" and "Fat Bottomed Rats" and we will occasionally trot out Bohemian Rhapsody in honor of Jocelyn.  But, there are a number of 'new' entries for inside-joke of the year on the farm.  The problem?  I can't remember HALF of the things that seemed terribly funny at that particular moment.  C'mon Rob!  What's that little notebook in your pocket for anyway?

The Grudge Book
We don't always all break for lunch at the same time, but when we do - watch out!  This year Caleb mentioned the idea of a 'Grudge Book' that people should keep so that they don't 'forgive someone by accident.'  We're not entirely sure that Caleb is prone to holding a grudge - but we like him and don't really want to test the theory.  Besides, I don't really want to be in anyone's 'Grudge Book.'

Caleb, Emma and Jocelyn - we need to get a picture of Sophie!
What would the sales pitch for this be like anyway?

Avoid accidental forgiveness!  Use our NEW Grudge Book App!  Just download for $4.99 initial fee plus $9.99 per month for this personalized service.  Get automatic alerts on a schedule you choose to remind you that you should be grumpy AND to help you be sure that you are grumpy at the right person!  For an additional fee of $7.99 per month you can get an add-on service that will alert you when the phone GPS of any person in your Grudge Book is within shouting distance.  An additional $2.99 will prompt you with appropriate insults and creative derogatory comments! 

But wait!  There's more...

No, there isn't more.  But, it could be interesting to see what else I could think of if I felt like it, wouldn't it?

The Hazards of Thistle Butt
We spend a fair amount of time crawling at our farm - especially when we need to weed in row.  Sometimes, certain people (who shall remain nameless - right Emma?) decide that it is more comfortable to sit and skootch as they weed a row. 
Ah, there's Sophie.  We think.
We are all aware that dried Canadian Thistle hurts ALOT if you put your hand in it.  That's why we try to pull those weeds out of the row and take them to the compost pile.  None of us wants to get stuck by those things if we can help it.  But, what happens if you are doing the butt skootch?

For those of you who don't know this technique, you use your arms and legs to help move yourself forward or backward while you are in the sitting position.  Of course, as the day goes on, the rear end does not always clear the ground - making it more of a skootch than a reverse crawl.  If you do the forward skootch, you can see what you are getting into.  But, the reverse crawl is fraught with the possibility that the single dried thistle in the entire row will park itself in a spot where you get the unpleasant sensation of sitting on it.

Good Group of People
We know we're incredibly lucky to have wonderful people working with us on the farm.  We all work hard and do our best and it never hurts to have a little fun as we work our way through it all.

Now, I've got to have that notebook out so I can catch more of the wonderful nuggets that get tossed my way every week.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Off Target

I am not prone to making strong statements without doing something to balance it out.  I realize those who read what I write do not have to agree with me.  I am fully aware that there are other opinions and feelings that are valid and worthy of consideration.  I get that.

But, I have no tolerance for people who use dangerous tools in ways that may hurt others.

Once again, our farm has been subjected to chemical drift from a neighboring farm.  Once again, we are stunned by the lack of consideration and we are (once again) preparing to be made out to be unreasonable, alarmist neighbors who attack everyone else who doesn't "see things the way we do."

The truth of the matter is we likely have dealt with some sort of drift damage every single season we have worked our farm.  We just aren't always in a position to verify the situation.  If we can't verify, we try not to accuse and we try not put anyone on the carpet for what is likely a chemical misapplication situation.  And, we really do not enjoy the process of trying to track down the source, assessing damage and going through all of the turmoil that follows.  It's so much easier to just gripe about it and watch while the crop does poorly or fails or we decide it isn't safe to give to others to eat.  Seriously.  That IS the easier approach.

note the spotting on the cucumbers - that were just starting to set fruit
This time Tammy caught the applicator entering the field and stopped him.  The wind was coming our direction at an average of 15mph, which is normally a higher amount than herbicide labels allow for (in fact, Buccaneer is rated at 10 mph and Battlestar at 15mph).  To make a long story shorter, the applicator called his 'boss' who told him to spray anyway.  Tammy called the 'boss' and was told that they were aware we were an organic farm and they were aware that it was a bit windy.  But, 'they were pressed for time because it was going to rain soon and they were going to spray anyway.'

Yes, these are weeds, but note the same spotting
In short, what this person said was: "Our need is greater than yours and we don't really care what other damage we might cause."  They did try to say that they had a 'drift retardant' in the mix and they claimed it would NOT drift at all.  But, their statement that it was a bit windy and that they had to spray anyway because they really NEEDED to was enough to show use that they didn't quite believe what they were saying and they needed to justify their actions.

Conditions were hot and windy.  The heat was only going to increase potential damage to our crops if there was any drift.  Once again, most chemicals recommend that temps be below 85 degrees Fahrenheit for application.  Guess what the temperature was at that moment?  Needless to say, we saw herbicide spotting the very next day on plants that had been just fine the day before.

There are numerous stories out there of representatives for applicators coming to places like ours and proclaiming the damage to be a 'disease' problem or a 'pest' problem rather than a drift issue.  But, generally speaking, diseases will impact plants of the same type and pests will have favored plants.  Neither is as indiscriminate as an herbicide.  If you simply look at the pictures, you'll see that this 'illness' was, in fact, indiscriminate.  And, it is NOT coincidence that it appeared the day after application on a windy day of an herbicide cocktail.

Note the spotting on grasses and plantain.
 It's Not Just the "Organic Thing"
The applicator company seemed to think it was only about the fact that we were 'organic.'  To get the feel for this, you need to say the word 'organic' as if you have something really bad tasting in your mouth.  But, our organic certification status is actually the smallest part of our concern.

1. It's about people working outside

There was no checking to see if there was anyone working outside in the potential spray drift zone.  There wasn't even a question about it.  There were four of us working outside at the time they pulled up.  They should inform us (without our asking) what is to be sprayed and they should inform us as to the period of time the application area is 'off-limits' to humans.  But, more importantly, they should cease and desist as soon as they find out there might be people working in what could become a spray drift zone.

2. It's about the kinds of crops we grow
Whether we grow them with organic certification or not, our cucumbers, peas, carrots, pole beans, etc etc are NOT Roundup ready.  They are actually more, not less, susceptible to the chemicals than the weeds the applicator is supposedly targeting.  Is it possible these plants will grow through it?  Certainly.  It depends on a number of factors.  But, you can bet that they were set back.  And, in a year where we had an enforced late start due to the weather, we can not afford to have someone's poor choices set us back even more.

3. It's about food safety.
who can tell me if the peas on this vine will be safe to eat?  And when?
So, who can tell me what's safe to eat from these plants - and by whom?  This assumes, of course, that we will get more harvest from this area.  If you grow corn or soybeans, you don't even think about consumer food safety because these crops are NOT grown for human consumption.  That means they use many chemicals that are not rated as safe to be a residue on an edible crop.

I'll give you a hint, there isn't sufficient research funded for this kind of knowledge because supposedly, these chemicals are not applied when they could drift.

What is the result now that we have spend time we should/could have been doing productive work on the farm?  The short answers?  The peas are not safe for human consumption.  That crop is lost.  The earlier cucumbers could be harvested beginning July 29.  That means we have to keep harvesting and destroying the fruit until July 29.  Then, we can harvest for consumption.  The other crops in the field that have later harvest dates should be safe for consumption once they are ready, but they will not be certified organic.

4. It's about animals on the farm
If we can't be bothered to study drift in real world application and the possible impact on humans, why would we possibly bother with its effect on farm animals?  It's not a simple situation where you can 'lock the animals up' while the spraying is going on.  There were heat indices around 116 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lock the birds up in a hot building?  Really?

5. It's about a failure to plan and a failure to care about your neighbor.
This is not the first time we've had the 'we have no choice, we HAVE to spray now' used on us.  It's an accusation.  It's a plea for us (our farm) take the blame because we exist and we are inconvenient.  It's just one way to use guilt in an effort to bully someone else to get your way.  It's a way to avoid taking responsibility for watching the weather more carefully and managing resources correctly.    It's a way to pretend that your failure to read and adhere to the use labels provided for each and every ag chemical is not your problem.

  • Everyone does it - is not an excuse.
  • Our farm is bigger and more important than your farm - is not an excuse.
  • You don't do things the way we do things - is not an excuse.
  • You should make BIGGER buffers on your farm - is only a way to try to shift blame - especially when you maintain no buffers.
  • Telling us we are responsible for responding to your whims and your schedule for spray is rude, absurd and not the way my parents taught me to deal with my neighbors.  I am guessing your parents taught you better as well.
  • Telling us we have to 'find a way to work together' does not mean we are the only ones who should make concessions.
Explain to me why YOUR worry about YOUR crops (or your client's crops) is valid and my worry for my crops, my health, my worker's health, my spouse's health, our animals health, our customer's health is unreasonable and easy to ignore.
Explain to me why we have to spend time tracking down use label information, find ways to get testing done and go through the processes with the Pesticide Bureau and my organic certifying agency because you cannot be bothered to use a tool correctly.

There is no sufficient excuse.

Herbicides, Pesticides and Fungicides are a Tool that is Abused and Misused Too Often
You heard it from me.  I recognize that these chemicals ARE tools.  They are dangerous tools that deserve respect with careful and appropriate use.  Personally, I choose not to use them and wish more people would also make that choice.  But, I am willing to accept that these tools could be used responsibly and well - using a long view to keep the tools effective and to avoid long-term environmental effects that we have yet to fully grasp.

Apparently, the day to day use of these chemicals is not worthy of our attention - whether it is an agricultural situation, such as the one I discuss here or if it is the neighbors lawn that must have no dandelions, no clover and no spiders (dreadful nasty things that they are - despite all the good that they do).

Ways We Could Fix This

Once again, I will call for change in hopes that maybe we will have the energy to make it happen.
  • Any application of chemicals on a field must require that the neighbors be contacted with a complete list of chemicals to be applied.  Direct contact information of the applicator, their company and the requesting farm should be made available to all potentially impacted individuals.
  • Any application MUST follow all label use recommendations.
  • Any application that has conditions that could potentially drift off-target to any sensitive site such as a school, waterway, residence, livestock operation, apiary, orchard, vinyard and vegetable operation must be halted until conditions are sufficient to avoid drift of any sort.
  • Fines and punishments for misapplication must be increased to align punitive damages with actual deterrent.
  • All fields must have a buffer zone.
  • Testing facilities for drift must be set up so the turn around time is quick enough that an operation with time sensitive crops (such as ours) can get results for food safety purposes before the crop spoils.
  • the Pesticide Bureau must receive sufficient funding and staff in order to process complaints efficiently.
  • funding for research to collect real-world data on drift in agricultural states is needed and should be procured.  There need to be drift catching devices throughout rural areas to determine actual chemical drift amounts in our air, soil and water.
  • All ag fields should have a proper buffer zone along all of its edges.
  • Provide services for farms impacted by drift to guide them through the processes of collecting information and seeking reparation.  Provide services that can give guidance as to food safety, worker safety and animal safety.
If you think this is too much and it is an infringement of rights or it is too much oversight and it will get in the way of efficient farm operations in the state of Iowa, then you can do something about it.

Use these tools properly.  Treat your neighbors well and with respect.

I challenge everyone to try that out.  But, I have no confidence in that approach - despite my wish that we could make it so.  That leaves legislation and enforcement.  I would be happy to be proven wrong on that point.