EPA certification standards for pesticide applicators under review

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Farm Forum

Standards seem likely to change for those who want to be certified pesticide applicators.

“Everyone will be held to a higher standard to become a certified applicator,” said Tom Gere, agronomy services manager for the sate Department of Agriculture.

Now, commercial applicators are licensed every two years and private applicators, like farmers, are licensed every five years, Gere said.

Standards for certification are set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those standards were last reviewed in 1974, he said.

Gere said the state Department of Agriculture has submitted comments about the new standards, but no new regulations have been drafted.

He said two items that have been discussed are:

• Requiring a recertification test every two years to discuss new chemicals and changes in application processes.

• Setting a minimum age of 18 for all licensed applicators.

Gere said South Dakota presently has no minimum age requirement for a licensed pesticide applicator.

It would be a couple years before any changes take effect, and state law would need to change to meet the new standards, Gere said.

Although EPA standards haven’t been reviewed for 42 years, Gere said certification and training plans are reviewed and approved by the EPA annually.

Sensitive sites

A relatively new option for pesticide applicators and property owners is a sensitive site registry, which can be found at found at bit.ly/2b5SIUU. Gere said it was developed by the Department of Agriculture at the request of a group of organic farmers in the fall 2012.

“The purpose of the site is to help garner communication between applicators and sensitive sites like orchards and bee hives or organic crops,” Gere said.

It allows landowners to register sites that are sensitive to pesticides and allows pesticide applicators to register the areas they spray, he said.

Once a new sensitive site is registered, he said, the pesticide applicators who work in that area are notified.

The sensitive sites include:

• Nurseries or greenhouses

• Vegetables, herbs, spices, fruit or nut trees, berries or vineyards

• Field crops, hay or pasture land

• Dairy, grass-fed beef, livestock or poultry

Gere said state law requires the location of bee apiaries be registered so they automatically show up on the sensitive site map. But there’s no law that requires other sensitive sites to register and participation is voluntary for both producers and applicators.

If a site is registered, Gere said, pesticide applicators will be more aware of the site. They can take the information and sync it with their mapping software so if they’ll be alerted if they’re nearing a sensitive site.

Drift

Lonny Mikkonen operates an organic farm near Frederick. He said it isn’t listed on the sensitive site registry, but signing it up would probably be a good idea.

If pesticides land on unintended properties, it’s called spray drift. If pesticide applications drift onto his crops, Mikkonen said, it not only affects the organic certification of those crops for that year, but also for the next two.

He and his brother first certified their organic farm in 1989. Since, he said, there’s only been one instance where a neighbor’s pesticide application landed on his field.

“They called in an airplane, and everyone was panicking because they couldn’t get it done,” Mikkonen said. “They sprayed when they shouldn’t have.”

The farm spans about 2,000 acres, which is a mix of row crops, pasture and hay land.

There are protective measures he takes to prevent drift.

“We have to leave a 30-foot buffer strip so there’s less of a chance of drift coming onto our field,” he said.

Neighboring fields are also bordered by either trees or pasture land, he said.

Gere said his office has fielded an average of about 70 spray drift complaints per year in the last two to three years.

“About 15 percent of the complaints result in some type of action,” he said.

When a complaint is investigated, Gere said, both the landowner and the pesticide applicator are interviewed. Soil testing is also completed to determine if there’s been contamination.

Gere said applicators are subject to fines if drift occurs, but his office doesn’t get involved in the collection of damages. That, he said, is a civil matter handled between the two parties or in court.

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