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Prepare for Pesticide Spray Season - Part I

The Pesticide Spray Business (everything connected with monoculture farms is a “business”) is pretty quiet in the winter. That’s when we can draw a deep breath, (hopefully free of chemicals), curl up and plan our summer's perfect garden, re-read past issues of Mother Earth News, and peruse books on raising livestock or back yard chickens.

Come spring, though — watch out. The farmers fill up their tanks and away they go — no matter if the wind is gusting over 20 mph…right toward your pesticide driftproperty. Not all farmers throw caution to the wind, so to speak, but even one applicator who disregards the pesticide spraying label is one too many.

If you have had pesticide drift on your property in the past, or suspect you have had, then now is the time to prepare yourself for the new 2013 Pesticide Spray Season.

First things first, of course. What is a pesticide? “Pesticide” is the catch-all word that includes herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

What is Pesticide Drift? “Pesticide drift” is the movement of a pesticide through the air away from the intended target. You might actually see the drift in the form of a mist. You may smell it. But it can be invisible and odorless. The spray may be applied from the back of a tractor — referred to as a “rig.” Or it may be applied from a spray plane or helicopter.

There is also the possibility — especially if you work away from your property — that you may not see the actual pesticide spray applied to a nearby field. You may notice it only after the fact, by observing your plants or trees wilted, curled or discolored.

As a note of caution, frost can imitate some aspects of pesticide damage. So can insects. But if you suspect you have had a pesticide drift incident, it helps if you know what to do and act quickly. Here are some suggestions:

Before the season starts: HAVE A DEDICATED NOTEBOOK already prepared.

This notebook could be titled with your name, the year, and “Possible Pesticide Spray Drift Incidents”. Then list the following data and fill out each line when you actually observe a spray drift incident:



Location of incident

Type of applicator if known (ground rig or aerial applicator)

Wind speed and direction, if possible

Brief description of exactly what was witnessed

Name of company and/or individual who applied the pesticide

Name of the person who owns the property where the pesticide was applied

Name of the chemical(s) applied

Witnesses (if any)

Documentation with photos or videos: yes ___   no____

As you can see by the last entry, in addition to your pesticide spray notebook, be sure to have your digital camera or video camera charged and ready for use. If you are on your property when an incident happens, then photograph it or video tape it. If there is a spray plane flying over your home at low altitude, try to video the “N” number on the plane.

There are other things which must be heeded always. If, for instance, you are directly sprayed or feel you have received a good dose of spray drift, you need to call 9-1-1 or go to the hospital immediately. Here in Illinois, there was one incident where a lady was drifted with a pesticide as her neighboring farm was sprayed with chemicals. She went to the hospital feeling woozy and nauseous. She could taste it in her mouth.  The doctor called the company who applied the chemical. The company refused to tell the doctor what chemical was used in the spraying. Most of the time this kind of cruelty does not happen. Most farmers and company applicators are more forthcoming.

Also, if you have children or pets outside and you see a spray plane or ground rig upwind from you, get your children/pets in the house quickly and close all windows and doors.

During and after spray drift incidents, it is vital to stay calm. This can be difficult to do when you see a foggy cloud coming right for your beautiful vegetable garden or orchard. But it always helps to keep a clear head and know what you must do to prevent more incidents from occurring in the future.

This is the first round of information on how to handle a possible pesticide drift incident, but more information is needed. My next blog entry will cover how to ask for a Pesticide Complaint Form from your enforcement agency and what to do with it.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please go to Spray Drift Education Network’s downloadable pamphlet on our website: Even though your state may be somewhat different from Illinois, this website will help you become familiar with the process. Other helpful websites are: Pesticide Action Network and National Pesticide Information Center.

Lastly, please feel free to leave any comments you have, ask additional questions or relate your story. You can also call Spray Drift Education Network at 815-988-2628. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jane Heim, in 2011, co-founded Spray Drift Education Network (SDEN), a grass roots organization dedicated to helping Illinois citizens report and prevent pesticide drift. She presently lives near Paw Paw, Ill., on 19 organic acres which she is transitioning to a Permaculture Restoration Farm. 

Photo by Fotolia/Superingo