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Organic Farmers: Pesticide Drift Kills

Joyce Russell/IPR
Farmers Union President Jana Linderman says more controls are necessary to prevent pesticides from reaching unintended fields.

Specialty crop farmers were at the capitol today complaining of damage to their produce from pesticide drift.

That’s when chemicals sprayed on one field reach a contiguous one where they are not wanted, and advocates are arguing for more control of pesticide application to prevent it.

Jordan Schiebel grows organic vegetables on a two-acre plot near Grinnell. He says farm chemicals applied to an adjoining cornfield drifted onto his land with disastrous results.

“I found damage everywhere,” Schiebel says. “From tomatoes with their growth points bleached out to speckled heads of lettuce to spots on tree leaves hundreds of feet from the conventional cornfield the drift had come from.”

The Iowa Farmers Union wants the Department of Agriculture to beef up penalties for careless pesticide applicators. And they want commercial pesticide applicators to carry more liability insurance so small farmers can be compensated for damage.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Republican Pat Grassley grows corn and soybeans in Butler County. He says he takes precautions for nearby sensitive crops when he sprays pesticides.

“We have a neighbor who has a specialty crop so we're very mindful of what he's growing on his operation,” Grassley says.

Grassley says the legislature routinely updates requirements for commercial pesticide applicators. But specialty farmers want applicators to give growers of sensitive crops more warning before adjoining fields are sprayed.    

Schiebel says the applicator who sprayed near his field denied that pesticides drifted onto Schiebel’s land. But Schiebel says tests by the Agriculture Department confirmed otherwise.

"There had been pesticide drift into my field with detectable levels of glyphosate and atrazine," Schiebel says.

Schiebel says it delayed his organic certification by a year.     

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture says officials plan to meet with Iowa Farmers Union representatives this week to discuss their rule change petition.