Commentary: Show DPR how schools and farms can co-exist

Issue Date: May 20, 2015
By Cynthia Cory
Cynthia Cory
Locating schools close to farms places additional burdens on neighboring farmers and ranchers. Now, the state Department of Pesticide Regulation plans a series of public workshops to address the use of pesticides around schools.

As California's population continues to increase, many schools have been built—and continue to be built—on prime agricultural land next to farm operations. This is because school boards have the ability to choose school sites without complying with local zoning ordinances adopted by the affected city or county.

Placing schools so close to farms places the burden on growers to provide buffers to prevent the dust, noise and smells that are an inherent part of producing food, fiber, fuel and flowers. Now, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has scheduled five sets of public workshops around the state, from May 28 through June 9, to address the use of pesticides around schools.

There is a concerted effort underway by anti-pesticide advocates to instill unfounded fear in parents and teachers that could cause, at minimum, additional and unnecessary restrictions around schools. The activists' agenda does not stop there, though: They want minimum quarter-mile no-spray zones around schools and for notifications to be given to individual households up to 1 mile from the edge of fumigant buffer zones.

Californians cannot say they want their food produced locally and then turn around and insist on draconian notification and application restrictions that hamstring efficient and cost-effective food production. Our state already has the strictest pesticide-application laws in the nation—laws that are clearly more restrictive and protective of the environment than where food would be produced in other parts of the world, if it can no longer be grown in California.

Existing pesticide-application requirements are based on science, and that science must be upheld and defended. We are doomed if we allow fear-mongers to convince parents and teachers that schoolchildren are in danger in the classroom due to nearby agricultural pesticide applications.

Farm Bureau supported the current law that allows county agricultural commissioners to place conditions on pesticide applications within a quarter-mile of schools, in order to address local conditions and needs with respect to timing, notification and method of pesticide application. But now, DPR is considering possibly making this current law mandatory instead of optional, and whether even further restrictions are needed regarding pesticide use around schools.

"DPR wants input from the public as it creates a statewide policy that will help mitigate the challenges created by schools being placed close to working farms," DPR Director Brian Leahy said. "The policy will include minimum statewide requirements that clearly reflect the responsibilities of schools and farmers as agricultural pesticides are applied close to schools."

In particular, the department says it would like to hear ideas about the best manner for school notification of intended applications of certain pesticides, and whether further restrictions should be placed on specific application methods within a certain proximity to schools.

The department says it intends to use these workshops as listening sessions, and gather input that will be used to craft a statewide regulation about pesticide use near schools. We encourage you to attend and provide your input; see the full workshop schedule.

Farm Bureau is sponsoring Senate Bill 313 by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, that would help improve coordination between school site planning and local general plans and zoning ordinances. If passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Brown, SB 313 would be a good step forward for future school site decisions.

Unfortunately, SB 313 will not take care of schools that have already been plopped down in the middle of pre-existing agricultural fields. It is extremely important for farmers to take the time to attend one of the five workshops, to talk about the measures they take to assure that pesticides used near local schools are applied in a manner that protects schoolchildren.

(Cynthia Cory is director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at 916-446-4647.)

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