Last week, a new farmer-led coalition held a press conference in Des Moines calling on state regulators to better protect Iowa farmers and communities from pesticide drift. The move reflects growing concern about the impacts of drift on Iowa farms and communities. Drift can undermine farmers’ ability to farm as they choose, jeopardize the state’s growing local food economy, and put Iowa children’s health at risk.
PAN's Iowa Policy Coordinator Kate Mendenhall was joined by the leadership and members of the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU) at the press event. Together they outlined the drift protection steps the coalition is requesting of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). Other organizations in the growing coalition include Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN).
Mendenhall, herself a beginning farmer in northwest Iowa, highlighted the coalition's concerns at the January 20 press event:
“The science shows that pesticide drift is a problem in Iowa. Drift affects both farmers’ ability to farm the crops and the production practices they choose. It also threatens the health of Iowa’s rural communities. Rural residences and farms are common locations for exposure to pesticide drift — the places where people live and work.”
PFI analysts recently released a report on pesticide drift violations that had been reported to IDALS from 2008-2012. They note that while IDALS confirmed pesticide drift in over 80% of the reported violations, applicators were fined in less than 20% of the cases. Jordan Scheibel, a vegetable farmer from central Iowa, described his concerns at the press event:
“Pesticides drifting from nearby fields is a very real problem for farmers in Iowa. These are not isolated incidents and no one is helped when they are swept under the rug or treated as collateral damage we have to overlook as an agricultural state. It’s a serious economic, public health and legal issue.”
IDALS has 60 days to respond to the petition for stronger rules on drift, which was officially submitted by coalition partner IFU in mid-December. Coalition members met with pesticide bureau officials last Thursday to review their requests, which among other things include stronger notification requirements, monthly use reporting for commercial pesticide applications and education programs on the financial impact of spray drift. The petition also asks IDALS to increase the maximum fine for a pesticide label violation in a drift situation from $500 to $5,000.
The coalition has also requested that the Iowa legislature establish an indemnity fund to reduce the testing time for crops damaged by drift, to improve the IDALs website and to increase in the insurance coverage requirements for commercial pesticide applicators. More advocacy work will be moving forward to this end during the 2015 legislative session. Stay tuned.