Pesticides

Amy Mayer / IPR

On top of trade disputes, a wet spring and late planting, many soybean farmers face yet another hurdle: the thistle caterpillar.

Although it becomes the painted lady butterfly, which can bring a fluttering swath of color to backyards and gardens, this caterpillar can be a real pest in soybean fields..

Use Of Controversial Weed Killer Glyphosate Skyrockets On Midwest Fields

May 30, 2019

Farmers have been using the weed killer glyphosate – a key ingredient of the product Roundup – at soaring levels even as glyphosate has become increasingly less effective and as health concerns and lawsuits mount.

Nationwide, the use of glyphosate on crops increased from 13.9 million pounds in 1992 to 287 million pounds in 2016, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey.

For every crop in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency carries out a rigorous set of tests to determine which pesticides are safest. How and when a pesticide is used can depend on how that crop is consumed by the average person — is it ingested, inhaled or applied topically?

It’s a precise science that aims to keep consumers safe from potentially toxic residues. But, like most federal regulations, none of it applies to the marijuana industry.      

courtesy of EPA

More than 2 million people work in or near agriculture fields in the U.S. that are treated with pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has strict policies about what those workers need to know about pesticide risks, when they can be in those fields and what they should do if they come into contact with the chemicals.

“EPA sets particular criteria of what needs to be included in a training,” said Betsy Buffington, a program specialist in the Pesticide Safety Education Program at Iowa State University.

“So if an instance occurs, they can look back and know that they're doing it correctly.”

Yet even with recent updates to the decades-old Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the EPA has little ability to monitor how well the regulation is working, and no way to determine how frequently agricultural pesticides drift onto, or otherwise make contact with, workers.

courtesy of Meyer Agri-Air

On July 28, 2017, a central Iowa emergency dispatcher received a 911 call from a man in a corn field.

“I had workers that were detasseling,” said the caller, referring to the job of manually pulling the tops off standing corn stalks. “Some may have gotten sprayed by a plane.”

The caller said 10 or 12 people reported sore throats or vomiting. They’d seen a plane applying pesticides to the adjacent soybean field and it seemed some of the chemicals had drifted toward the corn and onto the workers.

A company that makes dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton wants to expand use of the controversial weed killer to corn. But critics and experts questioning the logic of the petition.

Andrew Joyce won’t be growing any tomatoes this summer. His three-acre produce farm in Malden, Missouri, will lie fallow. The cause: damage from the weed killer dicamba.

Kate Payne / IPR

Farmers began phasing out the use of a particular pesticide long before a federal judge recently banned it. But chlorpyrifos could still have some long-term effects in Iowa.