Prepare for Pesticide Spray Season, Part VIII: Prepare to Be Blamed

Reader Contribution by Jane Heim
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“Pesticide drift is like so many environmental problems today; diffuse, elusive, hazardous, and invisible.” (Pesticide Drift & The Pursuit of Environmental Justice, by Jill Lindsey Harrison.)

There is nothing like being put on the defensive by the spray company or farmer who has just drifted you. Talk about adding insult to injury! Here are a few incidents where this very line of reasoning (or non-reasoning) has occurred:

Incident #1: It was another high wind late afternoon day and Kurt is out by his property line on his well-tended property. He hears a tractor coming over the hill and thinks it must be the neighbor mowing. No, it’s not. It’s a commercial sprayer who sprays Kurt over his entire left side, and much of his property.

When Kurt contacted the farmer to ask what he was spraying, the farmer said, “If I had heard a sprayer coming, I would have run for the house.”

“I couldn’t see it was a sprayer!” replied Kurt to the farmer. “And I would never have thought anyone in their right mind would spray in winds like that!” Kurt was flabbergasted that the farmer would even say that.

Welcome to the world where the victim is blamed for the spray incident.

 Incident #2: Debra saw the farmer spraying with a wind coming right at her about 17-25 mph. Some of the farmer’s quotes: “You don’t have to worry. I’ve done this many times.” … “I’m using the smallest nozzles, you don’t have to worry.” The very next day Debra saw evidence of damage on her property. She showed the farmer the damage on the back side of her pine trees. This year he had no excuses when he saw what he had done, so he said, “Well, what do you want me to do? Stop farming?”

Welcome to the world where the victim is blamed for the spray incident.

Incident #3: Randy’s CSA farm was spray drifted by the neighbor. The neighbor comes to the property line and says, “I don’t see any damage. I don’t see anything dead. I’m not going to have you call them (the Dept of Ag) every time I spray. …You can’t come in here and buy 3 ½ acres (actually it is 8 ½ acres) and expect everybody to change. If you wanted to do that you should have bought 1500 acres somewhere.”

Welcome to the world where the victim is blamed for the spray incident.

Incident #4: John, who works in aerospace systems, also grows grapes for a winery. One day he noticed his grapes along the road looked wilted. After several days it became apparent to John that the grapes had been sprayed. He filled out a complaint form from the Department of Agriculture. When the inspector came out to view the damage, he intimated that John had damaged his own grapes through his own spray program. John was incensed.

Welcome to the world where the victim is blamed for the spray incident.

Incident #5: Kris has 47 acres and a CSA. Fortunately the sprayer stopped before the damage went beyond Kris’ pasture. Another of Kris’ neighbors told him when he moved in, “You are a bad omen, because you don’t spray.”

Welcome to the world where the victim is blamed for any spray incident – even before they happen.

Incident #6: Annette’s apple trees were loaded with fruit.  Grown without chemical and absolutely perfect, the fruit would feed their family and provide enough extra to sell at a good price all fall and winter.  But when the call came to announce the spray rig was coming the following day, when the wind was going to be blowing straight at the trees, she asked the farmer, “So, you’re going to stay south of our property to avoid drifting on us, right?”  Silence.  “Right?” Silence. “You’ve drifted on us twice before and you won’t do it again, RIGHT?”  The farmer responded by saying, “We have a crop, too.”   The farmer gave that response despite TWO drift violations TWO years in a row for drifting chemical onto the very apple trees up for discussion. 

The total area up for question that day was approximately 10 acres out of hundreds and hundreds of acres farmed by this particular family.  Annette wanted to save a few gorgeous apple trees that meant fruit all fall, winter and spring plus whatever could be sold.   Eventually, after several minutes of discussion and a promise of a drift violation with the Dept. of Ag plus an insurance claim for lost fruit, the farmer reluctantly agreed to avoid the area upwind of the apple trees.  Annette saved the trees but not without a persistent argument and fight.

Welcome to the world where personal property including the very food you grow for your family takes backseat to big ag and big chemical.

What’s the point here?  The point is there is a common philosophy in the conventional ag community that big ag rules and everyone else should get out of the way especially when it comes to chemical applications.   And their defense?  We’re feeding the world!  Actually they are poisoning the world.  We need to feed ourselves!  And in order for that to happen, we need to stand up to the farmers and spray applicators who are applying chemicals in conditions that can favor drift – that is ANY wind that is blowing TOWARDS your person or property.  Any.  Light or heavy winds.   We need to tell them they cannot drift on your property or your food! And if they do, there will be consequences like official drift violations and insurance claims.

Folks, the tide will turn, if you want it to turn.  The tide will turn and big ag will no longer rule the countryside.  But it’s going to take people who are willing to step up and defend their property despite the guilt and blame that is laid upon them for speaking out.  Isn’t it always the way, the victim is blamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Stay Strong!

We always look forward to hearing your comments. Call us at 815-988-2628. And many thanks to my co-founder, Anita Poeppel, who added the call to action in this blog!

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