I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a court hearing where the Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General's office used its government powers to puff its chest and flex its muscles. It was an embarrassing display in which I witnessed a number of professional agricultural workers get badgered, disrespected, and abusively treated in a way that is unacceptable in every other aspect of life.
The State argued that although these applicators followed the label and best practices, the products that have gone through extensive testing by federal agencies and have been deemed safe if used according to the label, that their application was unsafe. What?!
Was this a witch hunt by an Attorney Generals office by overzealous lawyers trying to make a name for themselves? And they are getting an 11% increase from the General Fund to do more of this?
As I dig into this more deeply, I found the process even more disturbing.
It appears that someone can file a complaint against one of these licensed commercial applicators and the department does an investigation, not telling the applicator that he has had a complaint filed against them. The evidence is collected, evaluated, and stored- by one party, the department. In one of these cases, the evidence was collected in 2012- seven years ago, the others in 2014. The persons the complaint was filed against found out years later, when it was long past any time to collect their own evidence.
Needless to say, anybody that had a complaint filed against them was at a very distinct disadvantage but these businesses are professionals and they keep detailed records. They provided wind direction, details of products used, and explicit directions on how applications were completed.
As one reads the court documents and after listening to the proceedings, common sense would force you to ask the simple question before you proceed, "Is there a reasonable chance of a finding in the State's favor?"
For the common folk the answer is simply, "Absolutely not."
I can tell you it is rather gratifying that the judge found in all three cases that the state did not prove any of its allegations, yet these three spent thousands of dollars in legal fees to battle the deep pockets of government.
With the help of the legislature, perhaps we can put some sideboards on this egregious process and allow farmers and ranchers to continue and be the true stewards of the land.
I worry about the state of agriculture and how we continue to provide a safe and affordable food supply to a growing population.