Prepare for Pesticide Spray Season – Part IV: Waiting for Pesticide Inspection Results

Reader Contribution by Jane Heim
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When the wind is blowing in your direction and you observe chemical ground rigs or aerial pilots spraying pesticides next to your property, you now know what actions you should be taking if you suspect spray drift has happened to you. As previously explained in Part I, and II, you have documented your incident and taken photos and or videos. You then reported your incident to the proper enforcement agency. After you reported your incident to your state’s regulatory agency, they sent out an inspector to observe and document the damage. (Part III: The Inspection).

During this time you’ve likely engaged in talks with the sprayer or the owner of the property which may be on-going, or have ended abruptly.

Waiting for the “verdict” after your inspection by the state regulatory agency usually takes about 3-4 weeks – at least that is what we are told here in Illinois. As you wait, you might be eating from your sprayed garden, sending your produce to a weekly Farmer’s Market, or selling your produce through your CSA. If you are organic you are selling produce supposedly with no pesticides on them. Not knowing the outcome of your pesticide drift incident is upsetting and draining on you and your family.

Here in Illinois we have found that in many cases “The Wait “ can easily stretch to 3 months and even to almost 5 months, before you hear if there is a violation of the Illinois Pesticide Act.

As organic farmer, Randy Hoovey from Geneseo, Ill., told me last fall, “We have an 8 ½ acre Certified Naturally Grown Organic farm with a couple thousand square feet of hoop house space and a grant from NRCS. We have 10,000 lettuce plants. We are still selling lettuce and don’t know what the result is from our complaint.” At that time, Randy was still waiting for the verdict after the incident where his farm, wife, and worker were spray drifted on May 18th by a local agriculture company, and again sprayed June 12th by a neighboring farmer. Later, Randy was verbally accosted by his neighbor while standing on his property’s edge. Randy had to call the sheriff. At this contentious encounter, Randy told the neighboring farmer who sprayed herbicide on the adjoining farm, “With the stuff you sprayed you have to have a 50-foot setback.” The neighboring farmer replied, “I DON’T HAVE TIME TO READ LABELS!”

It’s always good to know your neighbor is so conscientious and knowledgeable about following label directions while he sprays chemicals next to you!

Randy could tell he was going to need some legal back up on his pesticide complaints.  Lawyers in the area didn’t get back to him. His wife, Lee, began looking on the Internet for some kind of help. Not realizing what the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund was, she called the Fund’s President (Pete Kennedy) looking for a referral for an attorney. And that’s how the Hoovey’s connected with the Fund. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to “defending the rights and broadening the freedom of family farms and protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense food.”

Randy says, “We would be lost without them. They are like angels.”

After the Fund approved the Hoovey’s case for representation, Gary Cox, General Counsel for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund stepped in to represent Randy’s family and farm. Meanwhile The Wait continued. And continued. And it became complicated…really complicated. After recently interviewing Randy Hoovey and Gary Cox, here is a time line of Randy’s pesticide incident:

1. Randy lodged a complaint for one overspray incident on May 18th and for a second overspray incident on June 12th, 2012.

The State Department of Agriculture investigated both complaints, separately, and issued two notices of Violation letters to two different entities: the herbicide spraying company for the first violation; and the neighboring farmer for the second violation.

2. The second violation letter was addressed to Mr. Hoovey’s neighbor. The neighbor sent a letter to the State challenging the violation. The Illinois Department of Agriculture rescinded the violation letter sent to the neighbor: “based on further information we are going to rescind our earlier violation letter to you.”

The chemical in question is Round-Up which is SUPPOSED to break down almost instantly, if you believe what Monsanto says about this chemical. We are left to wonder why the State would rescind its letter to the neighbor when almost a month later that chemical was still present from the first application. If the neighbor had not caused an overspray with the second application, why was the chemical still there?

3. Gary Cox through the Freedom of Information Act, obtained files from both incidents. Regarding the second incident, Gary spoke to one of the managers at Illinois Department of Agriculture, Environmental Programs, and asked him, “Why did you change your mind?” The manager replied, “Because we found out about the prior complaint. Based on that information we don’t think the neighboring farmer over-sprayed onto Hoovey’s property.” Even though, as Randy points out, “There is a positive test from the State of Illinois Department of Agriculture that was collected from our property right after the neighbor sprayed.”

4. In the meantime Gary Cox explains, “We settled with the sprayer on the first incident, and now we are trying to reach a settlement with the neighboring farmer. Although Randy and Gary do not talk in great detail about the specifics of the settlement, the insurance company for the local agriculture company “compensated the Hoovey’s for lost income and they agreed to not allow any of their operators to spray within 50 feet of the Hoovey’s property.”

Randy is presently pursuing a legal and financial settlement with the neighboring farmer.

Randy’s case may seem extreme but from what we have observed in Illinois, a 3-month wait is not all that uncommon.

I cannot sum up with a few words the anguish the Hoovey’s endured as they waited for the violation results from the State. The first incident on May 18th took until October 5th before the Hooveys received word that there was a pesticide violation by the spraying company. Nearly 5 months!

In the meantime, the Hoovey’s are selling their produce to their customers and wondering if the State lab would find it contaminated. Randy also wondered if they would lose their certification. (Their certification was downgraded to transitional and it will be another two years before they will be fully Certified Naturally Grown again.) Such was the state of Randy and his wife’s life throughout the entire summer.

Regarding The Wait for inspection results, the following reasons were given to Randy throughout the summer. On July 16th, when Randy called the State to ask when he might hear about the results of the tests on the samples taken from May and June, the manager of Environmental Affairs told Randy he’d look into it. Then another employee called back on August 6th stating, “It’ll be another week or so.”

After another week went by, Randy still heard nothing.  Randy received the same response from the State a month later. The State also told Randy: “I know they lost someone in the lab.”

If this were the only case like this, it could be discounted. However, many of the cases we hear about at Spray Drift Education Network have waited a good three months – the entire summer – as they sell what’s left of their produce, or try to save their grapes and grapevines, or as they realize the garden that sustains them through the winter may be non-touchable.

Other complainants calling Spray Drift Education Network have shared the explanations or excuses they received from the State. Here are some of them:

“Our machine is broken down.”

“We lost a chemist.”

“I’ll get back to you…I’m so busy now with complaints.”

“It’ll be another week or so.”

“The instrument that is used to analyze the samples was down and just got repaired.”

“We do not have the lab results yet.”

The State of Illinois plants approximately 12.1 million acres of corn and 9.4 million acres of soybeans a year. A huge percentage of these acres are sprayed with pesticides including herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Could the State be better prepared for pesticide lab testing? How prepared is your state?

My purpose with this blog entry is to prepare you for what could happen if you have reported a pesticide incident. Hopefully, you will not experience the bumpy ride the Hoovey’s have had to endure.

It’s also important to note – even if the wait for a verdict is extremely long, or the enforcement agency comes up with a no violation you can still pursue legal action or a settlement with the sprayer’s insurance company, as Betty Gahm did. (How to Prepare For The Pesticide Spray Season: Part I). We’ll cover that in the next blog. Talk with your local lawyers, and definitely check out the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. For $125.00 a year, as a farmer (and $50 a year for a consumer), Randy explains, “You have access to their lawyers in an emergency 24/7. If you want to see how all this works, buy the video Farmageddon, watch it and show it to others. “

What is it like in your state? Does your state have their inspector visit the suspected pesticide drift site in a timely manner? Are you happy with the process of waiting for results? Are you happy with the results of the inspection and the determination of pesticide finding (or not) by your state enforcement agency?

Stay tuned. We will examine “The Pesticide Complaint Result” in PART V of this series.

Please share your stories with us at Spray Drift Education Network. I welcome any comments you may have. 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, Illinois on 19 organic acres which she is transitioning to a Permaculture Restoration Farm.

Photo by Fotolia/Africa Studio