Farmers discuss concerns about fumigant plan


Issue Date: April 15, 2015
By Steve Adler

Farmers from as far away as San Diego County attended a Department of Pesticide Regulation workshop in Sacramento last week to express concern about what they termed unnecessary changes to notification requirements when fumigants are used on their farms.

Because current fumigant product labels have different notification requirements, DPR said, it is working on the development of a single standard to apply to all fumigant uses in agriculture. Participants at the workshop expressed little concern about the concept of standardization, but noted that DPR said it will "consider whether the methyl bromide notification regulations should be used as the foundation for the concept"—which would widen notification requirements for other products.

In addition, DPR is considering whether notification requirements should be incorporated into current label requirements, or "maintained as a separate 'right-to-know' requirement."

The plan is currently in its beginning stages, with more workshops planned for the fall. Comments will be analyzed in the winter and the proposed regulation will be released for public comment in the spring of 2016. DPR Director Brian Leahy said it is the department's goal to have something in place by the end of next year.

San Diego County flower grower Mike Mellano and San Joaquin County almond grower Dave Phippen each expressed concerns about the plan, during a grower panel at the workshop. Both said expanding notification boundaries would not do anything to increase public safety and would actually have the negative effect of creating unnecessary fear among people receiving the notifications.

Mellano said his family has seen firsthand the impact of more nonfarmers moving into an agricultural region, causing the growers in the area to adjust their operations to the expanding urban population and corresponding, extensive regulations.

"As farmers, we are concerned for the safety of our workers and neighbors," he said. "California has the strictest regulations in the United States and these regulations have been very well established based on extensive scientific research. What is being talked about at this workshop goes beyond the science."

Mellano emphasized that farmers are knowledgeable, understand what's required of them and are "willing to do the right thing."

Phippen said what is being considered by DPR would have a huge impact on the future of farming in California.

"We have never had an accident and the credit goes to the regulations that have been developed by DPR," he said, "so I am wondering why we are talking about extending these requirements."

Several other farmers made similar comments during the audience-participation segment of the meeting. One Kern County grower, for example, said he has made more than 1,800 fumigant applications during the past 30 years without a single problem of exposure to employees, neighbors or anyone else.

Watermelon grower Bryan Van Groningen of Manteca pointed out that his farm has been using fumigants for the past 15 years with "zero" problems.

"The general public does not understand the process of fumigation and this will just create more fear on their part," he said.

Yolo County walnut grower Stan Lester said current fumigation plans are already very complex and should not be unnecessarily complicated further.

"We all want a safe environment and we want our neighbors and employees to be safe. Science proves that the present system is safe, so why are we talking about going beyond that?" Lester said.

California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Environmental Affairs Cynthia Cory emphasized the importance of DPR using scientific data during its analysis, noting that there is a lot of data to support the existing regulations.

Research is ongoing to find alternatives to the current fumigants, she said, but so far nothing has been developed that is effective and economically sound.

"Any farmer would gladly use an alternative if it was available," Cory said. "I stand ready to help develop a uniform notification when it is needed, but we do not support mandatory notification."

CFBF President Paul Wenger, himself a walnut grower in Modesto, told the hearing that making additional notifications mandatory would be very difficult and at the same time would just add to people's fears.

Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen spoke about the challenges associated with expanding notification boundaries.

"When it comes to implementation, the workload will be placed on the agricultural commissioners' staffs," he said. "About 30 percent of the workload of my staff in Monterey County is dedicated to pesticide programs, and fumigation is a major part of that."

A half-dozen proponents of expanding the notification boundaries also spoke. They included representatives of Californians for Pesticide Reform, California Rural Legal Assistance and the California Teachers Association, who all favored a "right-to-know" concept.

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at sadler@cfbf.com.)

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