Archive for January, 2011

Pesticide Safety – Farmers take it seriously.

There are a lot of bits and pieces of information floating around in the blog-o-sphere and other internet sites about the hazards of pesticides. I have seen a number of tweets that quote the statistic of 20,000 pesticide poisonings annually as a reason to ban the use of all these chemicals. But if you look further into that statistic you will see that it is over a decade old and it refers to acute pesticide poisonings that occur when products are not used correctly or are accidental poisonings. Most of these are happening in developing countries. It is acknowledged that acute pesticide poisonings are a serious problem in these countries as regulations and equipment to safely apply these products is limited or non-existent.

But what does this tidbit of information have to do with pesticide use in this country? Most people are not aware of the extensive safety regulations that surround the use of pesticides, especially here in California. Right now throughout the industry, farmers are training their workers who apply crop protection products on the safe ways of mixing, loading and spraying. They go over all the safety issues on what protective equipment they need to wear, how to read the information on the label that tells them what they need, what are the sensitive areas on their farms that need extra protection, etc.

A document released in 2002 by the United Farmworkers Federation and the Pesticide Action Network entitled “Pesticide Safety Laws Fail to Protect Farmworkers” sited that between 1997 and 2000 there were 900 pesticide poisonings of farmworkers in Fresno, Kings, Monterey and Tulare counties. This sound like a pretty high number just on its own but when you consider the number of total pesticide applications that were made in those counties during that time frame was approximately 800,000* it would seem that the overwhelming majority of applications went on safely. How you interpret the numbers just depends on which side of the issue you want to highlight. Flushing out the reality behind statistics often take quite a bit of digging around, something organizations with an agenda assume, and rightly so, that most people will not bother with.

In the 20 plus years I have been working with farmers I have never had any of those I work with have a pesticide related accident on their farms or even any of their neighbors. I realize this is a small sample but it does prove that if you want to high light specific issues you can pick and choose what stories to share and make your focus appear to be the norm. You see it in the news all the time. If you take what you see on the TV news at face value it would seem that there is nothing good going on anywhere but if you look at the lives of most of the people you know, what you see on the news really doesn’t match most people’s reality.

I certainly do not want to minimize the impact of work place accidents to those that are involved in them. Accidents do happen and most industries do their best to address these problems in proactive ways. A recent string of field workers getting sick from pesticide applications to nearby fields in one California county spawned an organization called Spray Safe with is now spreading to many other counties and helping farmers coordinate sprays and field worker schedules so that workers and applicators know who is doing what, where. These types of incidents have declined dramatically.

There are many issue people talk about when they are discussing the “pesticide” issue. Rest assured that farmers talk about these issues as well and are as concerned as anyone. Farmers are ACTIVIELY involved in solving and an all real issues that impact the safety of their families, farms and workers.

* estimated from data compiled by California Department of Pesticide Regulation

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Conversations that go no where?

Sometimes we try to get our point of view across to people and our converstion just goes over the heads of our audience. It is hard to have a conversation with people who think they know the facts but really are just interested in holding on to their beliefs no matter what.

Here is a funny video about one such conversation.

After a winter break

Most of the activity out in the fields between November and January do not involved the services of a plant doctor. Farmers are preparing their fields for planting and pruning the trees and vines. My biggest job is going out in December and checking on the weed growth. Keeping the weeds from growing and using the soil mositure and nutrients we are trying to store up for out crops is very important. For your yard at home it is more of keeping your flower beds and lawn looking good. But most people know that if you let the weeds take over, the plants you want won’t last very long. We try to use weed control products that will last a long time on the soil so we do not have to spray and cultivate a lot in the winter. With all the rainfall, if is almost impossible to do any work out in the field. Making sure we know what weeds are in the fields and what are the right products to use is my job. There are many choices of things to use and it is important to use the right tools for the job.

Another winter project comes in the tree crops. Diseases and insects will hide on the trees in the nooks and crannies and it is important to mointor what is hiding out there in the winter and make a decision if treating the trees while they are dormant is something that is necessary or not. This involves going out and sampling the small branches and looking a the places these pest hide in and determining if there is enough of a problem to deal with.

Mites lay eggs on wood

For peach and nectarine trees there are certain spring diseases that are best treated while the tree is dormant. So for tree crops, many farmers are now applying what we call a “dormant” spray. Not all orchards get this spray, just thost that need it. So I have to go out and look at the orchards and find out, based on what pests we had at the end of the last season and what I see now, which orchards need a spray. The worst part of this chore is having to go out when it is cold and foggy. I hate cold and foggy.