Articles of Interest
The following page is hosted by the Genuine Faux Farm. Included here are verbatim copies of articles of interest that have been shared with us by CSA members, PFI listserve or other interested parties. We have made an effort to provide proper citation. Inclusion of an article on this page is not necessarily permanent, nor is should it be construed as full endorsement of the opinions expressed by the authors. Instead, we are hopeful that these articles will encourage you to think,and perhaps, to act in ways that promote our local food systems.
|How Commodity Crops Can Hinder Vegetable Production||Gulf Dead Zone: Bigger than ever|
|Rejected Olympic Events||Midwest Corn Expands Gulf "Dead Zone"|
|Organic Practices Outpace Conventional||Base Acres Prevent Diversified Ag|
|Herbicide Drift Damaging Veg Crops|
Submitted by Scott Fullwiler, PhD
March 1, 2008
My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables)
By JACK HEDIN
IF you've stood in line at a farmers' market recently, you know that the local food movement is thriving, to the point that small farmers are having a tough time keeping up with the demand.
But consumers who would like to be able to buy local fruits and vegetables not just at farmers' markets, but also in the produce aisle of their supermarket, will be dismayed to learn that the federal government works deliberately and forcefully to prevent the local food movement from expanding. And the barriers that the United States Department of Agriculture has put in place will be extended when the farm bill that House and Senate negotiators are working on now goes into effect.
As a small organic vegetable producer in southern Minnesota, I know this because my efforts to expand production to meet regional demand have been severely hampered by the Agriculture Department's commodity farm program. As I've looked into the politics behind those restrictions, I've come to understand that this is precisely the outcome that the program's backers in California and Florida have in mind: they want to snuff out the local competition before it even gets started.
Last year, knowing that my own 100 acres wouldn't be enough to meet demand, I rented 25 acres on two nearby corn farms. I plowed under the alfalfa hay that was established there, and planted watermelons, tomatoes and vegetables for natural-food stores and a community-supported agriculture program.
All went well until early July. That's when the two landowners discovered that there was a problem with the local office of the Farm Service Administration, the Agriculture Department branch that runs the commodity farm program, and it was going to be expensive to fix.
The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on "corn base" acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program.
I've discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future. (The penalties apply only to fruits and vegetables — if the farmer decides to grow another commodity crop, or even nothing at all, there's no problem.)
In my case, that meant I paid my landlords $8,771 — for one season alone! And this was in a year when the high price of grain meant that only one of the government's three crop-support programs was in effect; the total bill might be much worse in the future.
In addition, the bureaucratic entanglements that these two farmers faced at the Farm Service office were substantial. The federal farm program is making it next to impossible for farmers to rent land to me to grow fresh organic vegetables.
Why? Because national fruit and vegetable growers based in California, Florida and Texas fear competition from regional producers like myself. Through their control of Congressional delegations from those states, they have been able to virtually monopolize the country's fresh produce markets.
That's unfortunate, because small producers will have to expand on a significant scale across the nation if local foods are to continue to enter the mainstream as the public demands. My problems are just the tip of the iceberg.
Last year, Midwestern lawmakers proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would provide some farmers, though only those who supply processors, with some relief from the penalties that I've faced — for example, a soybean farmer who wanted to grow tomatoes would give up his usual subsidy on those acres but suffer none of the other penalties. However, the Congressional delegations from the big produce states made the death of what is known as Farm Flex their highest farm bill priority, and so it appears to be going nowhere, except perhaps as a tiny pilot program.
Who pays the price for this senselessness? Certainly I do, as a Midwestern vegetable farmer. But anyone trying to do what I do on, say, wheat acreage in the Dakotas, or rice acreage in Arkansas would face the same penalties. Local and regional fruit and vegetable production will languish anywhere that the commodity program has influence.
Ultimately of course, it is the consumer who will pay the greatest price for this — whether it is in the form of higher prices I will have to charge to absorb the government's fines, or in the form of less access to the kind of fresh, local produce that the country is crying out for.
Farmers need the choice of what to plant on their farms, and consumers need more farms like mine producing high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables to meet increasing demand from local markets — without the federal government actively discouraging them.
Jack Hedin is a farmer.
Placed on PFI listserve by Dr. Francis Thicke
Gulf Dead Zone: Bigger than ever
by Tom Philpott
17 Jul 2007
U.S. farmers planted 92.9 million acres of corn this spring, a 15 percent-plus jump from last year. If you lumped all that land together -- not too hard to imagine, given that corn ag is highly concentrated in the Midwest -- you'd have a monocropped land mass nearly equal in size to the state of California.
The jump in corn acreage is excellent news if you own shares in mega meat-processing
firms like Tyson and Smithfield. These firms have been complaining bitterly
that the price of corn, driven up by the government-induced ethanol boom, will
eat into their profits. (Corn is the preferred feed of CAFO operators, if not
of the animals they confine.)
The California-sized corn planting is expected to deliver the largest corn harvest in U.S. history, which will likely drive corn prices down a little.
But the corn boom absolutely sucks if you live in a fishing community along the Gulf Coast -- or if you happen to be a fish who makes a home in those troubled coastal waters.
Researchers projected [PDF] Monday that the Gulf of Mexico's Dead Zone, like this year's corn harvest, will likely be the largest ever recorded.
According to major ag policy-makers in D.C., farmers' decisions to plant as
much corn as possible -- often on environmentally fragile land previously kept
fallow for conservation purposes -- was a farsighted and rational move.
The explosion in corn plantings "further confirms that production and usage of biofuels can boost farm income, economic growth and jobs in rural communities while enhancing America's energy security," enthused Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate ag committee.
The news drew similar raves at USDA headquarters. "It's just incredible," gushed the agency's chief economist Keith Collins. He added hopefully that the huge corn crop should "give livestock feeders some relief."
But while Tyson and Smithfield execs breathe easier, fishing communities along the Gulf Coast are bracing for disaster.
That's because growing corn in vast monocultured fields requires heavy doses
of synthetic nitrogen, but all of that fertilizer doesn't end up in corn plants.
A good bit of it washes into streams which feed into the Mississippi River,
then to be carried clear down to the Gulf.
In a process known as hypoxia, all of that free nitrogen feeds a giant algae bloom, which ties up oxygen and destroys most life underneath: hence the "Dead Zone."
According to a report (linked above) by researchers R. Eugene Turner of LSU and Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana University Marine Consortium, preliminary measures of nitrogen passing into the Gulf through the Mississippi, taken in May, augur the biggest Dead Zone ever recorded.
"Hypoxia as a large-scale phenomena was unlikely to have occurred before the 1970s," the researchers write. The Dead Zone's emergence roughly coincides with the age when Earl "Rusty" Butz, Nixon's ag czar, ruled the USDA with an iron fist. Butz famously used the power of his office to prod farmers to plant "fencerow to fencerow," with as much fertilizer as required to produce bumper crops. That policy has been in place ever since.
Thirty odd years later, we're still allowing our government to sacrifice the Gulf's biodiversity, along with the livelihoods of surrounding fishing communities, to produce dubious fuel and ghastly meat.
The mind reels.
Submitted to PFI listserve by Susan Roberts
FARM TO FAMILY
Published by Northeast Nebraska News Agency, Hartington, NE
Week of Feb. 3, 2008
Rejected Olympic Events
Trudging through the snow the other day, with the Super Bowl now behind us,
I just realized that the Summer Olympics are coming up in September, from
Beijing. Our family loves sports of all kinds, so watching the Olympic Games
is often a kind of gripping experience for us, especially watching some of
the more obscure sports involved.
I guess the International Olympic Committee fields all kinds of requests
each year, to add new events to the already wide array of competitions. I
was wondering about some of our farm activities, and if any of them would
make the cut.
In the old days, most farmers were pretty good with a corn knife, walking
corn and soybean fields, chopping cockleburs and velvetleaf. There were
days, as a kid, that I can recall walking half-mile rows of soybean fields
all day long, at a pretty good clip. I imagine that we often walked between
five and six miles, covering a lot of acres in a day, with two or four rows
of soybeans to watch along the way. That would be an interesting marathon
for the Olympics. Of all the relays we watch, replace the baton with a corn
knife, handed off safely "handle first" of course, to a new "bean walker,"
who then proceeds down rows of crops, chopping weeds as fast and accurately
as possible. I'm guessing that this would be scored by speed and efficiency,
as well as proper identification of weeds, death rate of weeds and how much
damage was done to the soybean plants. It could get pretty technical.
Tractor driving would be a great Olympic sport, particularly backing a
four-wheeled wagon of corn into a ten foot slot into a machine shed, with
rain pouring down on a tractor without a cab. This could be transitioned
into a winter sport, with snow falling instead. Speed is of utmost
importance on this one, because we don't want the grain to get wet, but I'm
sure there would be penalty points if you happened to back into another
tractor or implement parked in the shed. The possibilities would be endless.
Hog sorting might be a rather salty sporting event. It might have to air on
television after 11 p.m. when the kids are in bed, because of the obvious,
rather "adult" nature of the language often used during this process.
Sorting could be a team event, with one person running the gate and another
conducting the sorting process. The event could be scored again by speed,
but also by the range of weight of the hogs actually sorted. Whenever we
sort hogs at home, my wife is usually a better sorter than I am, because she
can gauge the weight more accurately. But I'm much better at using colorful
language than she is, although I'm not sure if that should be a scoring
Pitching hay bales would also be a great summer event, but it would have to
be held in a hot, humid, breeze-less auditorium, without any ventilation at
all. The competition could be varied for straw and alfalfa bales, with bales
being piled high and straight. I can see the audience roar when someone goes
for the world record, pitching bales from the floor of the truck or wagon,
all the way up to a ninth row in the air. That would probably receive a
With winter dragging on, I can't wait for the Summer Olympics to commence,
but I'm sure none of these riveting rural events will be on the roster.
Maybe in 2012 we will see a farmer with his pliers at side, on the podium,
receiving his gold medal for something like cleaning manure from a hog barn
or fixing fence? You never know.
Submitted to PFI by Teresa Opheim
Posted Online: December 17, 2007 4:18 PM
Midwest corn boom threatens to expand `dead zone' in Gulf
Jerry Peckumn stands in a combine on his farm outside of Jefferson, Iowa,
Monday Dec. 10, 2007. Peckumn grows thousands of acres of corn because he needs
to make a profit, but says he is worried about the impact his farming has on
the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
JEFFERSON, Iowa (AP) -- Because of rising demand for ethanol, American farmers are growing more corn than at any time since World War II. And sea life in the Gulf of Mexico is paying the price.
The nation's corn crop is fertilized with millions of pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer. And when that nitrogen runs off fields in Corn Belt states, it makes its way to the Mississippi River and eventually pours into the Gulf, where it contributes to a growing "dead zone" -- a 7,900-square-mile patch so depleted of oxygen that fish, crabs and shrimp suffocate.
The dead zone was discovered in 1985 and has grown fairly steadily since then, forcing fishermen to venture farther and farther out to sea to find their catch. For decades, fertilizer has been considered the prime cause of the lifeless spot.
With demand for corn booming, some researchers fear the dead zone will expand rapidly, with devastating consequences.
"We might be coming close to a tipping point," said Matt Rota, director of the water resources program for the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group. "The ecosystem might change or collapse as opposed to being just impacted."
Environmentalists had hoped to cut nitrogen runoff by encouraging farmers to apply less fertilizer and establish buffers along waterways. But the demand for the corn-based fuel additive ethanol has driven up the price for the crop, which is selling for about $4 per bushel, up from a little more than $2 in 2002.
That enticed American farmers -- mostly in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota -- to plant more than 93 million acres of corn in 2007, the most since 1944. They substituted corn for other crops, or made use of land not previously in cultivation.
Corn is more "leaky" than crops such as soybean and alfalfa -- that is, it absorbs less nitrogen per acre. The prime reasons are the drainage systems used in corn fields and the timing of when the fertilizer is applied.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 210 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer enter the Gulf of Mexico each year. Scientists had no immediate estimate for 2007, but said they expect the amount of fertilizer going into streams to increase with more acres of corn planted.
"Corn agriculture practices release a lot of nitrogen," said Donald Scavia, a University of Michigan professor who has studied corn fertilizer's effect on the dead zone. "More corn equals more nitrogen pollution."
Farmers realize the connection between their crop and problems downstream, but with the price of corn soaring, it doesn't make sense to grow anything else. And growing corn isn't profitable without nitrogen-based fertilizer.
"I think you have to try to be a good steward of the land," said Jerry Peckumn, who farms corn and soybeans on about 2,000 acres he owns or leases near the Iowa community of Jefferson. "But on the other hand, you can't ignore the price of corn."
Peckumn grows alfalfa and natural grass on the 220 or so acres he owns, but said he cannot afford to experiment on the land he rents.
The dead zone typically begins in the spring and persists into the summer. Its size and location vary each year because of currents, weather and other factors, but it is generally near the mouth of the Mississippi.
This year, it is the third-biggest on record. It was larger in 2002 and 2001, when it covered 8,500 and 8,006 square miles respectively.
Soil erosion, sewage and industrial pollution also contribute to the dead zone, but fertilizer is believed to be the chief factor.
Fertilizer causes explosive growth of algae, which then dies and sinks to the bottom, where it sucks up oxygen as it decays. This creates a deep layer of oxygen-depleted ocean where creatures either escape or die.
Bottom-dwelling species such as crabs and oysters are most at risk, said Michelle Perez, an analyst with the Washington-based Environmental Working Group. "They struggle to survive," Perez said. "They can't swim away."
Crabbers complained at a meeting in Louisiana earlier this year that they pulled up bucket upon bucket of dead crabs.
Rota warned that if the corn boom continues, the Gulf of Mexico could see an "ecological regime change." The fear is that the zone will grow so big that most sea life won't be able to escape it, leading to an even bigger die-off.
"People's livelihood depends on the shrimp, fish and crabs in these waters," he said. "Already, some of these shrimpers are traveling longer and longer distances to catch anything."
Given the market pressure to grow corn, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others argue that the nation needs a comprehensive, federal approach to the problem.
Among the ideas floated: rules to force farmers to use fertilizers with more care, and the establishment of buffer zones to contain runoff.
ORGANIC PRACTICES OUTPACE CONVENTIONAL IN LONG-TERM RESEARCH
Submitted to PFI listserve by Sally Worley
AMES, Iowa -- After nine years of comparison, the clear differences between organic and conventional crop production systems are emerging: the longer rotations and careful management of the organic system show greater yields, increased profitability, and steadily improved soil quality over conventional practices.
Those are the conclusions drawn from experimental plots set up at the Iowa State University Neely-Kinyon Research Farm near Greenfield. The plots are part of the Long-Term Agro-ecological Research (LTAR) initiative led by Kathleen Delate of the ISU agronomy and horticulture departments and supported by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture since 1997. The study is believed to be the largest randomized, replicated comparison of organic and conventional crops in the nation.
Delate is now finishing her tenth year of organic production at the farm, and has nine years of comparative data from the combined crop trials.
"We set up the experiment in 1998 to examine suitable crop rotations that would provide high yields, grain quality and adequate soil fertility during the three-year transition to organic and following certification," she explained.
"We replicated conventional and organic systems, using identical crop varieties, and found that organic crop yields were equal to conventional acres in the three years of transition. In the fourth year, organic corn yields in the longest rotation outpaced those of conventional corn. Organic and conventional soybean yields have been similar every year of the trial."
But the biggest differences are in soil and water quality. Delate said the organic plots infiltrate more water, which reduces soil runoff and more effectively recharges groundwater supplies. The organic soils also cycle nutrients more efficiently, making them available when and where the plants need them. Soil structural stability also remained good, despite increased tillage involved with the organic rotations.
Delate will discuss her research at the 7th Annual Iowa Organic Conference November 19 in Ames. The conference also includes sessions on organic livestock production, weed management, direct marketing and opportunities for selling organic crops, and ways of producing fruit and vegetable crops in an organic system.
Registration is now open at http://www.ucs.iastate.edu/mnet/organic07/home.html. For more information about the ISU Organic Agriculture program, go to: http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/organicag/ or call (515) 294-5116.
Through its research and education programs in the areas of policy, marketing
and ecology, the Leopold Center supports development of profitable farming systems
that conserve natural resources. The Center was established by the 1987 Iowa
Groundwater Protection Act.
The FarmPolicy.com News Summary
Submitted to PFI listserve by Laura Krouse
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
5:45 am Central - Champaign, IL
Planting Flexibility- Base Acre Restrictions
I. Base Acre Issues
Philip Brasher, writing in Sunday’s Des Moines Register, reported that, “Farmers who grow federally subsidized crops such as field corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton can't convert land to fruit or vegetable production, even for only one year, unless they permanently give up their right to collect federal payments on that acreage.
“[Iowa farmer Gary Boysen] was willing to do that on land that he owns. But to expand his fruit-and-vegetable acreage he needs to rent land, and that would mean persuading a landlord to take the acreage out of the federal farm program. That isn't likely to happen.
“‘You can't go on rented ground and expect the landlord to give up base acres,’ Boysen said, using the term for land enrolled in the federal farm program.” (For more information on “base acres,” just click here).
“Farmland is entitled to annual fixed payments from the government, if the acreage was traditionally used to grow grain, soybeans or cotton. The payments vary according to the type of crop and the productivity of the land. In Iowa, the annual payment for corn acreage is about $30 an acre.
“If the land is pulled out of the farm program to grow fruits and vegetables, which the government doesn't subsidize, those payments disappear forever.”
Mr. Brasher noted that, “Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says the planting restrictions discourage farmers from diversifying their operations.”
The Register article indicated that, “In a report issued this month, the President's Cancer Panel called for coordinating farm and health policy to improve U.S. diets. Farm programs should be restructured to ‘incentivize/encourage increased production of fruits and vegetables,’ the panel said.
“But produce growers in California, Florida and other states are lobbying Congress to continue the prohibition on planting fruits and vegetables on farm-program acreage. They argue that it would be unfair to allow farmers in places like the Midwest to grow fruits and vegetables unless they permanently forfeit government payments.”
Although not a focus of the Register article, the planting flexibility issue has also caused problems with WTO covered agreements.
A recent Congressional Research Service report noted that, “In 2005, a World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge to U.S. farm commodity programs raised questions concerning the use of the planting flexibility restriction under existing trade commitments. Discussion on whether to extend the restriction in the next farm bill thus will have an important trade policy aspect as well as domestic market considerations.
“A number of reports have been issued since late 2006 that examine the possible effects on domestic fruit and vegetable producers of eliminating the planting restriction. These analyses suggest that the adverse effects of removing the restriction likely would be small relative to the overall industry, although there could be larger impacts on individual producers, commodities, and regions.”
A report completed by USDA’s Economic Research Service from November indicated that, “Participants in U.S. farm programs are restricted from planting and harvesting wild rice, fruit, and most vegetables (nonprogram crops) on acreage historically used for program crops (known as base acreage). However, a recent World Trade Organization challenge to U.S. programs has created pressure to eliminate planting restrictions. Although eliminating restrictions would not lead to substantial market impacts for most fruit or vegetables, the effects on individual producers could be significant. Some producers who are already producing fruit and vegetables could find that it is no longer profitable, while others could profitably move into producing these crops. Producers with base acreage are the most likely to benefit because they would no longer face payment reductions.”
The Bush administration’s Farm Bill proposal also addressed planting flexibility and tied in the WTO issue, stating that, “Under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, direct payments can be classified as non-trade- distorting or ‘green box’ support if, among other conditions, they are not ‘related to, or based on, the type or volume of [current] production’ by the recipient. In the Brazil cotton case, the WTO ruled that direct payments provided under the 2002 farm bill could not be classified as ‘green box’ support, because of the limitations on planting flexibility that currently prohibit the planting of fruits, vegetables, and wild rice on base acres eligible for payments. The WTO reasoned that because direct payments are conditioned on the recipients’ avoiding production of certain crops after the base period, they are related to current production and thus do not meet the criteria for decoupled income support as defined in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture.
“Although the WTO rulings and recommendations in the cotton dispute were limited to particular claims made by Brazil in that case, the reasoning in Cotton would suggest that it is desirable to remove the planting flexibility limitations” (page 32).
With respect to a recommendation on this issue, the Bush administration proposal noted that, “To ensure that direct payments will be considered to be non-trade distorting green box assistance, the Administration proposes that the provision of the 2002 farm bill that limits planting flexibility on base acres to exclude fruits, vegetables, and wild rice, should be eliminated” (page 32).
Regarding the 2007 Farm Bill, Mr. Brasher’s Register article stated that, “The House-passed farm bill keeps the fruit-and-vegetable restrictions in place with one exception: Farmers in Indiana would be allowed to grow up to 10,000 acres of tomatoes without losing eligibility for federal subsidies. The farmers would give up the payments only in the years they grow the tomatoes. Two freshmen Democrats who could be vulnerable in 2008 claimed credit for the provision.
(Other U.S. Representatives, who had been involved in this issue, were not allowed to include their districts in the planting flexibility exception contained in the House proposal. For more on alternative ideas proposed by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Pence (R-IN), Timothy Walz (D-MN), and Ray LaHood (R-IL), see this press release from March 6).
“The Senate goes to work on its version of the farm bill next month. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, is looking for a compromise on the fruit-and-vegetable issue, said spokeswoman Kate Cyrul,” the Register article said.
Herbicide applicators are damaging more and more neighboring fields
Submitted by Teresa Opheim, PFI listserve
Sean Skeehan and Jill Beebout, who own Blue Gate Farm near Chariton, didn’t notice when one of their neighbors’ herbicide applicators accidentally hit their vegetable crop. Blue Gate is a chemical-free farm, but the herbicide didn’t cause visible damage to their crops. Then a second applicator hit their fields.
“The second incident, the sprayer went by and it was a very windy day and my immediate thought was ‘my bees,’” Skeehan recalls. In addition to 13 types of tomatoes and a medley of vegetables, the 20-acre farm — located about an hour southwest of Des Moines — also has 16 honeybee hives. “I went out there and waved at the guy,” Skeehan says. The applicator stopped spraying as the 42-year-old farmer approached.
“At the time, I wasn’t sure what those particular chemicals would do,” he says. When his tomatoes, squash and zucchini crops sprouted, they grew into gross configurations. The couple took the produce to be tested and learned it had been hit with two chemicals, 2,4-D and Roundup, which are normally used to control weeds in corn and soybean fields, Skeehan says. Then it happened a third time in June.
Their high tunnel, or greenhouse, was hit with a herbicide called Ultra Blazer, Beebout says. “Two days after he sprayed, you could see the spray pattern coming off the field and into the tunnel.”
Cases of drift in Iowa, as these incidents are known, have been steadily increasing. There were 58 drifts reported in 2004, including one on an organic farm, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture. In 2007, there have been 116, including four on organic farms. Drift from herbicides and pesticides can damage conventional crops if, for example, weed killer that’s safe for soybeans hits a cornfield. In cases of drift onto organic farms, the damage can be more severe.
The three incidents of drift damaged close to 50 percent of Blue Gate Farm’s crop, which is Certified Naturally Grown — a certification available to small producers, which adherents say requires the same stringent standards as the USDA Organic certification without the paperwork or costs associated with the program.
Beebout, 37, says that the damaged crops aren’t covered by insurance, and the best chance for recouping some of their losses is through legal action against the applicators. If they aren’t able to claim restitution, “it would be a significant blow,” she says, potentially putting their three-year-old farm out of business. Beebout and Skeehan destroyed all the exposed vegetables and blossoms. “We cannot legally sell the produce,” she says.
The produce that grows for the remainder of the season on the affected fields
will still be offered to the 25 subscribers of the farm’s community supported
agriculture (CSA) program. The program gives members, who pay a fee for the
summer, a box of vegetables each week. However, the couple won’t sell
the produce from those fields at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market, where
it usually sells 65 percent of its crops. Blue Gate can’t make the claim
of Certified Naturally Grown on the produce that comes from the affected fields
for three years, Skeehan says. “We’re now considered transitional,
which means you can use the fields, but we can’t claim Certified Naturally
The Department of Agriculture is currently investigating Blue Gate’s claim, says Chuck Eckermann, the department’s chief pesticide investigator. It will be difficult to resolve the case because two of the applicators applied the same chemicals. “If they’re applying the same product, then you can only point fingers. We would not be able to prove who was responsible.” If they do prove that one or all three applicators were guilty of drift, each applicator could face a fine of up to $500, Eckermann says, adding in 70 percent of the cases a party is determined to be at fault. If the department does find the applicators at fault, it could also open the door to legal action by Blue Gate.
Farming experts say the best way to avoid drift is to communicate with neighboring farmers. Beebout says they knew their neighbors, but the applicators responsible for the drift were outside contractors. Organic farmers should “talk to their neighbors, make sure you’re as visible as possible,” she says. CV