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Pesticide-drift concerns still hang over ag industry

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Mike Moen

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(Greater Dakota News Service) Pesticides are still common in agriculture. Organic producers who avoid them have seen ups and downs in pushing for stronger regulations, and they point to a South Dakota example of the harm associated with widespread use among neighboring farms.

At the heart of the regulatory fight is the application of the weed-killing pesticide dicamba, and how it can drift from one farm to another. Last month, a federal court blocked "over the top" spraying of dicamba products, but the EPA followed with an order to allow the spraying of existing supplies.

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Glenn Pulse, co-owner of an organic farm in Vermillion, said a 2017 drift incident had a big impact on his operation.

"Our entire farm was covered. We lost a lot of livestock, and thousands of bees were killed," he explained.

It also resulted in health concerns for his family, having to regain his organic farmer certification, and a legal battle over restitution. Groups such as the National Family Farm Coalition have been fighting what they call the deregulation of these chemicals, arguing the drift and runoff effect has damaged millions of crops.

Dicamba-manufacturing companies deny responsibility, instead blaming farmers who apply it for not following guidelines.

The EPA has said there were already millions of gallons of dicamba in circulation prior to the court's ruling, prompting the agency's order. Pulse feels there are farmers who are careful in spraying chemicals, but he wants stronger enforcement against those he describes as "loose cannons."

"The guys that are not following the labels and they're spraying in weather conditions that are not favorable, that is where, I would say, 90 percent of the problems are happening with drift incidents," Pulse said.

His calls for better responses to these incidents coincide with policy demands to heavily restrict dicamba products. Meanwhile, Representative Dusty Johnson, D-South Dakota, is the main sponsor of a bill supporters say would assure uniformity in national pesticide labeling under federal law. But opponents argue it would limit longstanding state and local pesticide safety rules.