Pesticides: Farmers testify that current rules protect schools

Issue Date: November 23, 2016
By Kevin Hecteman
Tulare County farmer Blake Mauritson says there’s no need for a new state regulation on pesticide applications near schools and child care centers, because local programs have been successful.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Unnecessary: That, in a word, was the opinion of farmers and other agricultural representatives who turned up for public hearings concerning a Department of Pesticide Regulation proposal to impose a quarter-mile buffer zone around schools and licensed child-care centers, restricting how and when farmers can protect their crops from pests.

About 200 people showed up in Tulare last week to weigh in. The night before, about 175 attended a hearing in Oxnard. In both cases, the throng was about evenly split between farmers and others who think the regulation goes too far, and anti-pesticide activists who think it doesn't go far enough.

One of those testifying in Tulare was Blake Mauritson, a sixth-generation farmer who works as ranch manager for Kaweah Lemon Co. in Lemon Cove. A portion of the lemon orchard borders a school.

"I think the biggest question on the regulation at this point is, why?" Mauritson said. "We haven't seen any science-based information on why they're wanting to impose a quarter-mile buffer zone around schools.

"We feel like what we have right now in place is working, and that's local control," he said. "We work well with the community; we work well with the county ag commissioner's office. To my knowledge, there haven't been any incidences of pesticide-related accidents in Tulare County within the last nine to 10 years."

Steve Wilbur, a third-generation dairy farmer and diversified grower in Tulare County, thinks along the same lines.

Wilbur pointed out that while DPR seeks to impose a quarter-mile buffer zone, many of the activists who spoke want the buffer expanded to one mile.

"What's going to come after that?" he asked. "That's a big fear."

Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, also questioned the need for a regulation.

"There are plenty of laws that already govern and regulate the application of all these materials," Blattler said. "We have a lot of schools that are adjacent to farms. ... And so there has always been a need to have a good dialogue, and a respect for one another. Most of our rural school districts, they understand that. Their faculty and administrators have the ability to reach out and talk to that grower directly."

As presently written, the regulation would restrict farmers' ability to apply pesticides within a quarter-mile of a public school or licensed child-care center between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Farmers would not be allowed to use aircraft, sprinklers or airblast sprayers during this time, nor could they use powder pesticides or fumigants.

Certain applications would be allowed, so long as the farmer notifies the school and the county agricultural commissioner's office in advance. Two kinds of notification would be required. One is an annual notice, due April 30 each year, detailing the products to be used; a map of the area to be treated; contact information for the farmer and the agricultural commissioner; and the Web address of the National Pesticide Information Center. When a farmer wants to apply certain pesticides during buffer-zone hours, a 25-foot buffer zone and 48 hours' notice are required, detailing the product to be used, the area to be treated and the earliest date and time of the application. Only a ground-rig sprayer, flood or drip chemigation, or field injection or other equipment may be used.

Applications made with a backpack or hand-pump sprayer; a granule, flake, pellet or bait station; or as a dust or powder using field soil injection equipment do not require 48 hours' notice.

The regulation lets schools, farms and county agricultural commissioners make their own arrangements. This cooperation already exists, many in the farming community said.

"We've developed a pilot in Kern County to have active communications between the ag commissioners and the schools, and hope to hold equal ownership and develop new innovations vs. just a blanket 'Here's the policy,'" said Jeff Rasmussen, president of the Kern County Farm Bureau. "Our track record shows we're very effective around schools."

Mauritson said growers, schools and the Tulare County agricultural commissioner's office work together, and that growers take pesticide safety seriously—after all, he pointed out, children of farmers and farm employees are in those schools. Growers already work around school hours to the extent possible, he said.

So does Reid Potter, who thinks the new regulation just won't fly.

"It's overreaching, in my opinion," said Potter, who runs Lakeland Dusters Aviation in Corcoran and chairs the California Agricultural Aviation Association.

"It's a quarter-mile, then it's half a mile. They're already asking for a mile and seven days a week," Potter said. "That's ridiculous. … A lot of the same materials we're using in the field are being used on the school grounds. And a lot of the materials we're using in the field can be bought at Home Depot or Wal-Mart to use in the house."

In Oxnard, John Krist, Farm Bureau of Ventura County CEO, testified that his bureau and the Environmental Defense Center teamed up on a county-level regulation 14 years ago.

"In Ventura County, farmers and pesticide applicators communicate with their neighbors all the time, and not because the law requires them to," Krist testified. "They do it because they care about their community and take seriously their obligations to protect human health and safety. And again, this approach is working, as demonstrated by the fact that, even though there are about two dozen schools within a quarter-mile of farmland here, we have had no school exposure incidents in 14 years. We regard this as evidence of success, not proof that the existing system has failed. And we urge DPR to regard it the same way."

Wilbur said he wants DPR to understand "that science and fact tell a story that can be measured.

"I would invite anybody who wants to have an intimate understanding of what we do to come out and visit. I'll show you what we do. I'll show you how we do it. Education is incredibly important in this," he said.

There will be one more public hearing, at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Salinas Sports Complex, Exhibition Mall, 1034 N. Main St., Salinas. Written comments can be sent by Dec. 9 to Linda Irokawa-Otani, Regulations Coordinator, Department of Pesticide Regulation, P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812-4015 (see here for more information).

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.