Published Apr 17, 2015

PFI farmers prep for citizen science project with PANNA

By Liz Kolbe

 “We were in our first year of production after our organic certification, and we got sprayed really bad. It was a soul searching thing to go, “Everybody is affected to some degree – are we just going to say, “ok – this happened”, and give up our certification and start all over again? Or are we going to keep our mouths shut? We decided to pull everything up and start the three-year certification over again. We decided someone had to make a stand. We were never able to get compensation. So many people were spraying that day – it wasn’t clear which applicator was at fault. ‘Could have been anybody in the county,’ they said.”

If you take the time to ask a fruit and vegetable farmer in Iowa about pesticide drift, it is likely they have a story like this. They might not want to talk about it – pesticide drift to a fruit and vegetable farm is extremely stressful – financially and emotionally. If a farmer hasn’t had an issue with drift yet, it is one of their biggest concerns – every single year.

On Saturday, April 11, 15 farmers gathered at Iowa Valley Community College in Grinnell to learn how to use the Drift Catcher, a citizen science tool that samples the ambient air for pesticide residue. The Drift Catcher isn’t a “gotcha” tool, and it isn’t a replacement for reporting pesticide misuse to IDALS – it provides a conservative measure of pesticide levels in the air near farmers’ fields, homes, and swing-sets.

This is Practical Farmers second year working with Pesticide Action Network to recruit for Drift Catching in Iowa, and the demand is high. There was not enough Drift Catcher equipment for all who applied to participate this year.

Lex Horan and Emily Marquez led the 6-hour training, with assistance from Kate Mendenhall. Many farmers shared their stories and got to know one another over what is becoming a classic PFI lunch: Vic and Cindy Madsen ham sandwiches, salad with Lee’s Greens, and polenta from Early Morning Harvest. Special thanks to Jordan Scheibel for making the venue available, and to all the farmers who spent the perfect Iowa day indoors!