(Beyond Pesticides, April 29, 2011) The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced a new online tool under development designed to protect sensitive crops from unintended herbicide exposure as a result of pesticide spray drift. Called the Sensitive Crop Locator Database, the tool would enable growers of grapes, tomatoes, tobacco, fruit trees, ornamentals and other specialty vegetable crops to register their crops and field locations with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to let farmers who may be spraying pesticides on nearby fields know where there are sensitive crops. This will hopefully encourage applicators to take steps to minimize potential drift from their applications onto nearby fields.
“Controlling pesticide drift is an important issue for pesticide applicators,” said Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance. “The innovative Sensitive Crop Locator database will be a valuable tool to help protect sensitive crops from unintended herbicide exposure. We encourage farmers to register their sensitive crops and field locations with MDA to ensure they are included in the voluntary database.”
Crop and field location information will be included in the new voluntary statewide Sensitive Crop Locator database to assist pesticide applicators in identifying locations where sensitive crops are grown in order to take extra precautions for preventing the potential exposure of these crops to spray drift from neighboring fields. Applicators can search, identify and locate sensitive crops adjacent to areas where they intend to spray pesticides. The database, developed with Maryland Speciality Crop Block Grant funding, will also offer pesticide applicators access to maps and aerial photographs.
It is important to note that the law does not require applicators to consult the database when spraying, or owners of sensitive crops to register. It is intended purely as a voluntary information source, should users wish to consult it.
The database could also be a useful tool for organic farmers wishing to avoid any potential contamination of their crops with substances not approved for production under organic standards. A court case in California recently found that pesticide applicators can be held responsible for contamination of organic crops with pesticide residues, suggesting that applicators would serve their own interests in addition to those of their neighbors by consulting the database and ensuring that they minimize their drift.
Pesticide spray drift is typically the result of small spray droplets being carried off-site by air movement. The main weather factors that cause drift are wind, humidity and temperature changes. Drift can injure foliage, shoots, flowers and fruits resulting in reduced yields, economic loss and illegal residues on exposed crops.
Though the tool is well intentioned, it should be noted that there are other consequences besides crop damage that often occur as a result of pesticide drift. Development of this database marks a small step toward recognizing some of the dangers associated with the unchecked release of toxic chemicals into our environment, but it does nothing to protect members of the public who may reside in nearby areas from exposure to these substances. It also does nothing to address potential contamination of waterways that can result from pesticides drifting away from their intended target and into rivers, lakes, and streams.
The only other way for Maryland residents to be notified of pesticide applications, and the sole way for non-farmers to be made aware, is through the state’s Pesticide-Sensitive Individuals Registry. Under this law, people who have a doctor’s letter attesting to their sensitivity can register to be notified in advance of pesticide use on property adjacent to their homes. There is no state law allowing non-sensitive individuals to be notified by pesticide applicators of imminent spraying, outside of residents cultivating a personal relationship with any neighboring farmers. More information on local laws and initiatives is available from the Maryland Pesticide Network.