Wheat growers testify against pesticide bill in Senate committee hearing

WAWG Past President Nicole Berg (center) testifies against SB 6529 in Olympia on Jan. 25. Photo courtesy of Dillon Honcoop, savefamilyfarming.org.

A group of Washington wheat farmers joined other growers yesterday in Olympia to testify in a Senate Labor and Commerce Committee public hearing on SB 6529, a bill that places unworkable restrictions and onerous reporting requirements on pesticide applicators.

The bill would require a pesticide user to provide written notice of an intended pesticide application to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) four business days in advance. The DOH would then be responsible for notifying adjacent properties of any individuals who have requested such notification of the pesticide application. The bill also requires applicators to provide pesticide records on a monthly basis to the DOH.

Growers testified that having to wait four business days before being able to spray is problematic when some pests need treatment immediately upon detection. In addition, because spraying is highly dependent on weather conditions, including wind speed and temperature, trying to predict a window of acceptable spraying conditions more than a day in advance is nearly impossible. Growers also testified that thanks to improvements in spray technology and chemical formulations, drift events are rare.

Nicole Berg, past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) and a farmer from Benton County, told senators that technology has turned farmers into “precision agricultural specialists” who only apply nutrients and pesticides when plants need help.

“On our farm, all crop protection handlers and applicators are licensed and have to attend yearly training. The licensing is performed by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA),” she explained to the committee. “The timing of our application is a requirement of our applicator’s license. We can’t apply crop protection products if wind speeds are not within the parameters set forth by WSDA. If a licensed applicator doesn’t follow the laws set for them, there are steep penalties.”

In an effort to educate legislators on why SB 6529 is harmful to agriculture, WAWG asked growers to send emails to committee members to explain how the bill would hurt their operation. Marci Green, WAWG president, said in an email she understood the committee’s concerns but believes the bill is requiring regulator requirement that harm Washington farms without providing any additional safety.

“The monthly reporting to Department of Health would be quite burdensome but I am most concerned about the requirement for notifications four days prior to application. When we discover a weed or disease in one of our fields, time is of the essence in applying crop protection products…also, in order to safely apply pesticides, we need certain weather conditions to be in the appropriate range. When we become aware of a need for pesticides, the weather might be great that day or the next, but it is difficult to predict what conditions will be in four days. I would hate to be required to let three ‘good spray days’ pass us by and then have wind and rain on the fourth day. It would go against everything we have been taught about being good stewards of the land,” she said in the email.