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Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry:
Jack T. Baillie’s John Baillie

First we ran pesticide Spraying Gets More Attention and that was followed by Pundit’s Mailbag — Green Acres Is The Place To Be?!? These pieces were both focused on pesticides, not so much as an issue on produce but an issue related to the movement of people to rural areas and the intersections between people and farms.

After we ran those pieces, John Baillie called to let us know how California had been wrestling with these issues. We’ve spoken to John numerous times before, including this piece that focused on food safety and, in the midst of the spinach crisis, a poignant piece we called In Defense Of Salinas. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott top speak with John about pesticide drift and the issue of residential encroachment on farmland:

John Baillie
President, Jack T. Baillie Co.
Baillie Family Farms and
Tri-County Packing
Salinas, California

Q: Dangers related to pesticide-spraying drift have been receiving greater media attention lately. How are these issues being handled in the coastal regions of California?

A: Monterey County has always been at the cutting edge of implementing anything involving safety. Eric Lauritzen, Monterey County Agriculture Commissioner, has been working with growers to address pesticide spraying concerns for years. The issue of how to deal with urban growth sprawl bordering up against farmland is challenging.

We have buffer zones with any urban areas. The zones between residential and farming are not mandated by county or state law. Eric Lauritzen worked out voluntary agreements with growers to have 500-foot buffers where no spraying goes on. Once we are within that boundary, the spraying stops. And if a school is in the vicinity, there is absolutely no spraying during school hours. This is a local policy in Monterey County.

Q: So other counties aren’t following such codes?

A: There are counties it doesn’t apply to. All counties have different policies. Monterey County is so unique, not only in California, but probably across the U.S. We had restrictions to be a certain distance away from housing whether ground or aerial application starting five years ago. If any new housing development is relatively close to farm ground, the county has set limitations, a certain number of feet from the nearest fence we just don’t spray. It’s either an equipment area to store pipes, or set far enough away so there are no drift issues.

Q: With residential expansion creeping so close to farmlands, is it really possible to have full control over the drift factor?

A: We live in a coastal region, where we get afternoon winds, and we may get breezes in the morning. When spraying, there are many factors to consider, and we must be careful what time of day, and how the wind will float. We do aerial spraying at the crack of dawn. That’s when air is the deadest. There have been instances where people have sprayed fields, and inversion layers have been known to come back up and move.

There are times where the farmer should not do any spraying at all. We look at every possible scenario. You could have a house with a lettuce field right over the fence.

Q: Do you anticipate new regulations to be enacted?

A: We are dealing with four measures on the ballet, Tuesday, June 5, 2007, related to what urban growth is doing to Monterey County. Tree huggers don’t want any pesticide spraying. Then there are people on the other extreme. I’m an environmental farmer, or the new term biodynamic farmer. We don’t spray just to spray. We’d rather err on the safe side than be irresponsible. It’s a delicate balance. We kill what’s affecting the crop to make sure it doesn’t get damaged by mildew or bacteria. Broccoli will be handled differently than lettuce, than strawberries.

We will see more regulations come in. That’s fine. I welcome them. They won’t be stricter than what we have already. As suburbs push close to farmland and urban areas expand, all these counties will have to be responsible. Kudos to our ag commissioner for being a leader in this area, working with growers hand in hand to avoid problems. Now we are just starting to see the issue of spraying in residential areas being examined in other parts of the state.

Now the state is mandating restrictions, and counties in California are screaming and yelling about it because it is taking away from farmable acreage.

Q: Is there a sizeable impact to farmers on the amount of land they lose?

A: The farmer is losing a little bit of acreage, but there are instances where food safety regulations could overlap with the pesticide zoning. With new food safety guidelines being mandated, we also have restrictions on land use for food safety. It’s almost playing into those rules.

Q: Do you feel the media has portrayed the issues with pesticide drift accurately and fairly? Do consumer perceptions fit with reality?

A: The Associated Press article I read in the Pundit about children’s increased exposure to pesticides made some strong and valid points. However, Eric (Lauritzen) and I believe it was one-sided and in parts misleading because it distorted some facts in the way the information was juxtaposed.

Q: Could you provide some examples?

A: Eric brought up some instances. In the AP article it reports… “As suburbs push close to farmland, the rate of pesticide poisoning among children nationwide has risen in recent years, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medial Association. The study found that 40 percent of all children sickened by pesticides at school were victims of drift — pesticide carried on the breeze…”

This gives the impression that all 40 percent of children’s sicknesses were agriculture-related, which is not a true statement. There are instances where sprays were applied by the school district. I’m aware of employees spraying around the fence perimeter of schools, where the pesticides drifted into the playgrounds.

Q: What are your biggest agricultural concerns related to pesticide spraying?

A: Right now the light brown apple moth is terrorizing us here and causing chaos. It doesn’t necessarily affect vegetables, but it does tremendous damage to strawberries, and when it gets into crops like stone fruit, citrus and tomatoes, it can destroy multi-billion dollar industries. (Monterey Herald article here).

The nursery industry is getting hit hard, and fruit suppliers are scared to death. Back in the 70’s, during the med fly crisis in the states, they did aerial spraying over everything. How do you control this? Do you think Mexico has a buffer?

The battle between farmers and those who don’t worry about farmers is not something that will go away. John references a big ballot referendum in Monterey County. It is a complicated referendum. What makes the issue so demanding is that being in favor of agriculture can’t mean opposing building.

Farmers need housing for their workers; they need to be able to build packing and processing facilities.

Many who claim to be in favor of farming actually favor policies that would drive farmers out of business. Much like the housing the Wall Street Journal article we referenced here mentions, these “advocates” don’t want real farms, they just want empty land.

For Pundit readers eligible to vote, here is how the Monterey County Farm Bureau urges you to vote.

The big difference between Monterey and elsewhere is that at least in Monterey, there is an organized agricultural community to try and educate voters when issues such as this arise. That won’t be true in many places.

Many thanks to John Baillie for sharing his experience on these issues with the industry.

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