Archive for December, 2010

How pest control decisions are made with sustainable farming practices.

Responsible farmers use pest control products responsibility. When walking through a farm field or orchard there is a lot going on that isn’t always obvious to the untrained eye. It is a living system and in order to keep a sustainable system in balance there is a lot to evaluate. Just because there are pests out there doesn’t necessarily mean that you call out the machines and blast them away. Many people think that farmers are always spraying for pests but more often than not, my weekly inspections of farmers’ fields do not call for any spraying at all. When I am checking a field I am actually counting the pests, looking at any damage they may be doing and deciding if the pest populations and the amount of damage they are doing are something the farmer can live with. Using the tools of Integrated Pest Management there are bug traps , sweep nets (like kids use to catch butterflies) , counting pests on a certain number of leaves or fruit, all to take a sample of what is there, how much damage if going on, what kinds of natural control may be going on and how much the situation has changed since the last check. Sounds complicated? Well it is. That is why there are trained, licensed people out there checking and evaluating what is going on. Decisions are made based on what is going on in the field, is the damage beginning to get to the point the crop yield is going to be economically damaged? Are the natural controls going to be able to keep the pests in check or is there something that can be done to augment that system? Many times sprays can be used to knock down the pest levels to a point where natural control can take over and balance is restored. Pest sprays are not meant to completely clean out the entire natural system. When used responsibility they can help farmers grow our food safely and with very low environmental impacts.

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New decision brings more angst.

Early this month the California Department of Pesticide Regulation approved restricted use for a new pesticide, Methyl Iodide. This product is supposed to be the best replacement for certain uses of the now discontinued Methyl Bromide pesticide, which can’t be used because of ozone issues. As usual, there were a lot of letters, data, discussion, etc. on both sides of the issue. Not surprisingly, there was scientific data showing the product could be used safely and data showing it could not. Letters from well-respected organization on both side flooded in. Those on the side that wanted the product thought that the decision as a good one and those on the side that did not want the product cried foul and vowed to fight for a repel of the decision. Does this sound familiar? Seems like a news flash from any number of decision and any topic these days.
So, how do we know that these decisions are made in everyone’s best interest? How do we swim through the flood of commentary to understand if we should be concerned or relieved? Well, if you think I have that answer I don’t. It is all just as confusing for me. I do know that I understand the process. I can look at all the studies that they do and see that they are looking at a wide variety of issues, human health, environmental health, worker issues, and etc. It seems like they are trying to cover all the bases, even if I don’t understand all the technical stuff. I try to look at the sources of the data, who is doing what and where the experts working on the issues are from. I take data that comes from the company that is making the product with a grain-of-salt and do not pay much attention to any scientific data that comes from sources that are based in organizations that have a track record of being anti-pesticide. And I trust. I trust that people who are working on these things are like you and me, wanting to do a good job and are able to use the skill and knowledge they worked so hard to get to come up with the best decisions. If, at some point down the road there is a problem with the use of this product, I will expect that the problem will be looked at in a professional manner and mitigation measure will be developed where possible or the product will be pulled if not. It is unrealistic to think that all possible future risks and issue can be foreseen.
Isn’t that all we can hope for with anything? We seem to have this idea that if a product causes injury that the makers should have foreseen it and since they did not they are held criminally negligent. Maybe I am just naive or too good natured but I just believe that most people are not out to destroy when they develop a product. That is not to say there are no problems with cutting corners or making faulty products or safety concerns and government standards, regulations and inspections are indeed needed.
Back to the Methly Iodide issue, the State of California has the most restrictive regulations for its use than any other state, as with many other pesticide products as well. They had done their best to look at the major concerns and figure out way to mitigate them. It is not going to be an easy pesticide to use but those that need it will be able to have access to it. Safety concerns were looked at and addressed and not ignored. It hard work of all the people who tirelessly worked on this decision should not be maligned just because people who do not want any pesticide use are upset.

If you are interested in seeing the information regarding this issue on the DPR website, here is the link: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/registration/methyl_iodide.htm