Friday, July 16, 2021

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, the farmers at the Genuine Faux Farm 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.  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.

I tend to read these labels for two reasons:

1. Our farm is susceptible to many of the chemicals that are applied to the neighboring row crop fields.  We aren't always entirely sure that applicators read these labels all that carefully - and if they do - they seem to ignore whatever is inconvenient for them to follow. (Perhaps this is not entirely fair.  There are applicators out there who take their job seriously, but from our perspective it doesn't seem like enough of them do).

2. It's part of Rob's job with Pesticide Action Network to have some awareness regarding these labels.

These chemicals are poisons and are dangerous if not managed correctly.  For that matter, some of them are dangerous even IF they are managed.

Warnings on the Atristar/Battlestar herbicide

Shown above is one of the chemicals that were recently used on a field near our farm in 2018.  It was applied with other chemicals on a day when the wind was strong and coming our direction.  That explains why I looked up the use label.

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 any tool is to use it in a way that it does its job without collateral damage.  

For example, 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 in 2018 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 seeds will have trouble germinating.

The labels include all sorts of nitty gritty, but not always details that will help if a crop that the product 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 farms like ours.  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.

And yet, we seem to feel that we don't need to take the application of these products seriously.  

So, tell me.  I had my left kidney removed because there was cancer in that internal organ.  Is it possible that the cause of this problem had something to do with my exposures to various agri-chemicals?  Well, there are too many variables to prove causality in my own case, of course.  

But, should I even have to think about this?  Not if we take human safety seriously.

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?

Well, it is not ok.  It's a theme I have been writing on periodically since 2012... and perhaps before that too.  And, I don't believe we've made any progress on the issue.  If anything, it feels like we have gotten more careless. 

Change is needed and we need everyone on board.  Let's make it happen before it is your child having a kidney removed and you find yourself wondering if maybe the chemicals they were exposed to might have contributed to the problem.


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