By Vicky Boyd
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is working on a pesticide application notification network that it plans to launch by 2023.
Although the scope and details are still being worked out, the department has said the network initially will focus on pesticides more likely to move offsite or that have greater potential for health impacts.
San Joaquin Farm Bureau President David Strecker questioned the need for additional rules when the state already has the strictest pesticide regulations in the nation.
“It goes along the line that all farmers do is spray chemicals,” said Strecker, who farms row crops in the Delta. “We don’t do that. We make hard decisions before we actually apply something to our crops or administer something to our livestock. We aren’t just spending money to spend money. We’re following labels on products to do a better job and for our bottom line.”
To SJFB Vice President Joe Ferrari, the state’s proposed network is overkill and he questioned the need for additional paperwork.
“There’s no need for this, absolutely no need for this,” said Ferrari, who farms walnuts and cherries with his father and brother near Linden. “This is just more control over us, and it doesn’t make any sense.”
He said he could understand if there were widespread pesticide misapplications, but there are not.
“What’s the goal for this?” Ferrari said. “If it’s a noble goal, then what is that noble goal?”
He cited the myriad regulations that he and his family already must abide by when making pesticide applications in their orchards.
The state requires growers to report all pesticide applications – including products, crops, locations and rates – monthly to the county agricultural commissioner.
To use a restricted-use pesticide, growers must first attend an annual training class to become a certified applicator.
They then must file notice of intent, or NOI, no more than 24 hours before application of a restricted-use material. Afterward, applicators must notify the ag commissioner within seven days of completion.
Those who farm within a half mile of a school or licensed child care center also must provide facility directors with annual lists of anticipated pesticide applications.
Jake Samuel, who runs a custom application business with his brother near Linden, said he’s also concerned about the possible notification network.
“How many times do we go out and make an announcement or post our documents on different products already?” he said. “It would be one additional step that isn’t necessary.”
Samuel said he has had to hire a part-time employee to keep up with current pesticide use reporting. Additional notification requirements could mean investing more hours into paperwork.
Samuel said they plan to raise custom application rates at the beginning of next season because of increased fuel and input costs. But he said his customers would laugh if they tried to increase them even further to cover reporting costs.
“What more do we need to do to keep applying just basic pesticides?” Samuel said. “Where I get frustrated is we’re already doing a lot to make sure we’re doing things correctly and with training and all the extra PPE equipment we have around.”
He also pointed out that agriculture in general has evolved to using safer, more targeted and environmentally friendlier crop protection materials over the past decade.
“We’re not using half of the toxic chemicals we used to use 10 years ago,” Samuel said. “I’m all for being safe and making sure things are done correctly, but you have to use some common sense at some point.”
Network planning to date
CDPR already has held four focus group sessions and plans to conduct public webinars to seek additional input on the network beginning in October.
Following the feedback, the department will develop a regulation that defines how, when and to whom notifications will be distributed, said department outreach director Leia Bailey.
As for a reason behind the network, she said, “A public notification system will advance environmental justice and further protect public health by providing transparent and equitable access to information about the application of certain pesticides near where people live, work or play.”
Roger Isom, president and CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association, had a different view of the state’s reasoning.
“This administration really hasn’t been shy or bashful – they want to move to organic to carry on their agenda,” he said. “They want to eliminate pesticides.”
Isom pointed to the department’s 2020 registration cancellation of the insecticide, chlorpyrofos, without scientific data as an example of current administration thought.
Bailey did not respond to questions about how the notification network would fit into the existing pesticide use reporting system or restricted-use NOIs other than to “build on California’s robust pesticide regulatory program.” Nor did she answer questions about what pesticides would be included.
Isom participated in CDPR’s recent ag focus group. The department said the network would initially focus on restricted-use materials. But in the very first group, CDPR asked about expanding beyond those products, Isom said.
He pointed to an existing notification system in Monterey County. When an email of a pending fumigation was sent, 56% of the recipients were outside California. Environmental groups also tried to stop the fumigation from happening.
“We think the same thing is going to happen here,” Isom said. “With our NOI, with all the required posting we have to do, there’s no reason we have to do (the notification network).”
Focus group participants asked how the department would handle notifications for applications that were postponed because of wind, rain or other issues. CDPR representatives could not answer.
SJFB’s Strecker wondered the extent of the reporting, since the state after all registers household cleaners that make claims of killing pathogens.
“Every time I wipe down my counters, will I have to notify my neighbors?” he said. “It’s hard to draw the line.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has included $10 million in his budget to develop the notification system, but several focus group participants asked who would pay for network maintenance and upkeep.
“I think the answer will be growers once this thing is up and running,” Isom said. “They will go to the mill tax on pesticides.”