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Work to improve pesticide stewardship

Mrs. Smith still lives in the country home surrounded by crop fields that she and her late husband bought almost 50 years ago. Her daughter, now a doctor living in Jackson, Miss., visits often, but for the most part the grandmotherly Mrs. Smith cares for herself, spending much of her time tending her garden.

One spring day she calls her daughter to tell her that one of her neighboring farmers “poisoned” a field adjacent to her house and the smell is horrible. She's upset and nervous that the chemicals the farmer sprayed could be dangerous to both her and her carefully tended plants.

Partly to soothe her mother's fears and partly out of genuine concern for her health, the young doctor takes a day off of work and makes the two-hour drive back to her Delta home, getting increasingly more agitated at the farmer as she drives. Someone is going to pay for this inconvenience.

Now, imagine you are that farmer.

What began as an uneventful early spring day has escalated into what could potentially be a liability nightmare. What's worse, it all could have been prevented with a five-minute courtesy call to Mrs. Smith.

A simple visit to tell Mrs. Smith that you've got to burn down some weeds before planting, and that it may smell for a few days but that the pesticide is not dangerous and won't endanger her health, would likely have prevented the entire scenario.

“Opening the lines of communication with our non-farm neighbors goes a long way towards saying, ‘I'm trying to do a good job,’” says Tom Crumby with FMC Corp. in Bolton, Miss.

Crumby advises farmers to keep their neighbors informed of any planned pesticide applications, and help them understand the need for these treatments. “People are moving closer and closer to production agriculture, and they may not understand production agriculture, or they may want to change it,” he says.

“We must work to change public and private opinions of pesticide usage. There are some who don't consider the use of pesticides as necessary in today's world despite the fact that they have a cabinet full of pesticides they bought at Wal-Mart,” Crumby says.

Defined as an individual's responsibility to manage his life and property with proper regard to the rights of others, stewardship, Crumby says, is the responsibility of everyone from product manufacturers to growers to homeowners. “Everyone in the agricultural industry is responsible for pesticide stewardship. We've moved from parts per million to parts per trillion and we're using improved analytical science to develop today's products, but there are new and different issues we must deal with,” he says.

He recommends pesticide users make themselves aware of the potential environmental impacts a particular product may have on wildlife, aquatic life, and humans, especially considering today's increasing litigious society. “The cold hard reality is that we must all participate in stewardship or we will lose our pest management tools.”

That begins, he says, with the strict following of pesticide labels. “The label is a legal document detailing the practices which are allowed, along with those practices which are not allowed including any precautions or required buffer zones. Silence on the label does not imply that a product can be used in those manners not included on the label. Also, label errors can and do occur.”

This unregistered use of pesticides can include applying a pesticide for which the active ingredient is labeled, but for which a brand name product is not. Unregistered pesticide use can also mean treating a crop or pest in a way that is not included on the product label.

“If it doesn't say, it doesn't allow it,” Crumby says. “For example, don't make an application of Furadan for the three aphids that are in the field because you really want to use the product to control an unlabeled pest.”

In addition, he says, certain locations and situations require extreme care and planning in the application of agricultural pesticides to particular fields or general areas. Application methods and timings may need to be altered, alternative product choices may be needed, and sometimes the omission of a treatment may be the best treatment.

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