County resident shares concerns about spraying
With the Bertha Armyworm infestation plaguing canola crops in recent weeks, many farmers in rural Alberta have been forced to save them with the application of different insecticides. One method I’m sure everyone has noticed everywhere is the use of aerial spraying over the crops. Benefits of this method are that it can save time for farmers, prevent ruts in wet conditions and prevent them from having to drive over their canola with high clearance sprayers. The CanolaCouncil.org website states that with a 100 foot boom and 12” tires a loss of two per cent trample or roughly a bushel or less per acre may be expected by driving on a crop.
The risks incurred when using aircraft to spray arises when you get into moderately densely populated areas of the countryside. There is a home on nearly every quarter section of land in places and in others more than one. With airplanes delivering their payload at speeds of around 100 mph there is much less room for error when dealing with unforeseen obstacles, winds that can cause drift, or any other non-target areas, such as gardens, livestock, and houses.
We were recently affected by two separate cases in our homes out by St. Paul. In the first case, an inverted cloud of drift settled over my parents’ yard in the middle of the night. This is caused when a temperature inversion causes the chemical to remain in the air as a toxic cloud, which can drift into sensitive areas as it did in this case. In my case, my family and myself were directly affected by drift caused when an airplane delivering the chemical Lorsban 4e deflected drift towards our house because the pilot’s judgment was to use the airspace over our yard as a turnaround point. Since the pilot chose to fly the airplane east-west, to start the field he had to fly at least 60 or more feet off the ground to clear overhead power lines on the edge of the field. Our yard was, unfortunately, directly on the other side of the power lines. With my estimate of only a one to two km per hour wind condition at the time, the conditions were well within the recommended rate in which a 16 km per hour cap is the max recommended. So why did we feel effects of this chemical in our house then? When you’re flying at speeds of 100 miles per hour and pulling up that fast to miss overhead lines, stopping the spray cloud somewhere near that property line is supposed to be calculated by the pilot, but the room for error is so much smaller when using an airplane at high speeds. In our case, the insecticides had to fall 60 or so feet to hit the ground so they have way more hang time than if high clearance sprayers had been used. With the momentum of the spray and a light breeze, the strong odour of the insecticide was instantly noticeable and mild effects of the Lorsban 4e were felt inside our home. For those that are unaware of this insecticide, it is a lethal insecticide that the first line on the label states: “it is not to be used in and around homes or other residential areas such as parks, school grounds, playing fields...” Farmers cannot swath canola for 21 days after application because the Lorsban 4E may still be present. Because of this lasting residue, we have since taken many precautions to ensure the safety and health of our families is maintained and are still taking safety precautions if any residue from this chemical is still present anywhere in our yards.
We contacted the farmers who hired the airplanes immediately the morning of the incident and have had nothing but cooperation from them during and after this experience. In further talks with them, they have promised that they will never use aerial spraying again because of the added risks involved.
I decided to write a letter to the editor because the best way to prevent future incidents is to increase awareness about it. Although the information about pesticide protocol is available to the public, it is very spread out and took many phone calls, and hours of reading and interpretation through very hard to navigate government websites.
What I’ve learned from all of this in a nutshell is:
Farmers have the legal right to apply pesticides on their property. It is strongly recommended but not mandatory that they notify you 48 to 72 hours prior to application and notify you of the chemical being applied and possible adverse affects to you and your property. Notification is not asking for permission and the two must not be confused. Farmers must, however, exercise extreme caution when choosing chemicals and application methods because: “Producers may be held accountable for compensation to adjacent land owners if pesticide damage occurs.”
So choose wisely and assess the risk to your neighbor’s property because with new houses popping up all the time, the risk to you, the producer, is much greater when using an airplane in close proximity to people’s gardens and homes. Notifying adjacent landowners is a sign of mutual respect and concerns should be discussed to find satisfactory solutions for both parties.
After all of the reading into the regulations that are in place, there are two main points which I personally would like to see amended. Transport Canada states that when using an airplane to spray, pilots must stay 2,000 feet from any town, a reasonable distance from any “built up subdivision” but any single rural dwelling has no right to protect their personal airspace because pilots and planes are certified by our government. The title in the regulations states, “Trust the Pilot’s Professional Judgement”. The first line in the definition of the word “Trust” in the dictionary, states: “Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.” My confidence in them is broken and I believe I should have the right to choose to trust the pilot if his room for error is my family’s wellbeing. The other concern I have is that if a garden is present somewhere on a yard and chemical drift occurs where somebody has not been notified, if ingested, adverse effects could likely happen without them having a clue why. I believe it should be mandatory that producers notify adjacent landowners 48 to 72 hours prior to application of any product that can cause adverse health effects to humans so they can take precautionary measures where necessary.
Crop protection 2012 or on line version agriculture.alberta.ca/blue
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