Q: Can organic farmers use pesticides on their crops?
A: Yes. Organic farmers can use pesticides derived from natural sources and pesticides that include synthetic substances within the regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program if other strategies and cultural management practices fail to control pests and diseases. Organic is a production term – it does not address the quality, safety or nutritional value of a product. Both conventional and organic farming emphasizes preventative practices that include crop rotation, mixed plantings and beneficial insects to manage pests and maintain and improve soil quality. Both conventional and organic farming typically rely on the use of pesticides as a last resort to control pests and diseases on crops. For more information see https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/labeling.
Q: Are pesticides applied with helicopters on strawberries in fields?
A: Helicopter use for pesticide applications is extremely rare in strawberry production. Typically, strawberry growers own their own tractors and spray equipment and make pesticide applications to fields using tractor-driven equipment. For strawberry growers, using their own equipment provides for the most safe, effective, efficient and cost-effective method for pesticide applications. Additionally, strawberries are a high value crop grown in high intensity cropping systems where the acreage is generally smaller than acreage of other crops.
Q: What is being applied when a helicopter sprays an agricultural field on crops other than strawberries?
A: Helicopters are used during daylight hours to apply fungicides to control mildew and insecticides to control insect outbreaks when farmers can’t enter a field with a tractor. The ground may be too wet or the plants too big as they grow closer to harvest size – broccoli, for example – and would be damaged by the tractor. Fertilizer can also be sprayed by helicopter. Fumigants are never sprayed by tractor or helicopter because they are gaseous pesticides injected into the ground before a crop is planted to control soil-borne pests.
Q: Is it legal for an organic field to be sprayed by a helicopter?
A: Yes, if the pesticide being applied is allowed for organic crops by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
Q: How often are fixed-wing aircraft used to apply pesticides in Monterey County?
A: Fixed-wing aircraft applications are extremely rare in Monterey County, in fact the last application was in 2013. Monterey County permit conditions state that no fixed wing aerial application of pesticides will be allowed within 1000 feet of any urban residential areas.
Q: What qualifications does a helicopter or fixed wing pilot need to spray pesticides on agricultural fields?
A: The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) certifies aircraft pilots who conduct pest control in California. Pilots must take continuing education classes to maintain their certificates. They also must register with the County Agricultural Commissioner in each county he or she intends to perform pest control. Pilots are highly skilled and experienced and use sophisticated equipment that determines where spraying starts and ends. Numerous factors are considered prior to aerial applications, including surrounding crops, weather conditions, sensitive areas and location of field workers and bees. You can learn more about the requirements for pilots who apply pesticides at http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/license/pilot.htm
Q: Why are some pesticides sprayed by tractor at night?
A: Pesticides are frequently sprayed at night by tractor because there is no conflict with field crews. There is also typically less wind and less chance for drift that could affect field crews, bystanders, and commuter traffic on roads adjacent to fields being treated.
Q: I saw someone hand spraying a field using a red substance in a tank on a truck. What is it?
A: A spot herbicide application to control weeds. The herbicide is dyed so the applicator can see where the spray hits.
Q: What is an Agricultural Pest Control Adviser (PCA)?
A: PCAs are consultants licensed by CDPR to provide pest management recommendations for both conventional and organic farming. They also advise on land preparation, planting, fertilization, irrigation, cultivation and harvesting. Federal, state and local laws and regulations for crop production have become so complex that most farmers hire PCAs to help them navigate the maze. All PCAs practicing in Monterey County must register annually with the County Agricultural Commissioner, who can audit them to ensure their recommendations to farmers conform with the law. You can learn more about the licensing requirements for PCA’s at http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/license/adviser.htm
Q: If you see agricultural workers wearing protective clothing, including disposable coveralls, a dust mask or respirator, eye safety glasses and gloves, does it mean they are applying restricted materials?
A: It depends. Some farmers go beyond what’s required by law and require their workers to wear protective clothing for all pesticide applications. Many farm workers voluntarily choose to wear protective clothing even when the pesticide label directions do not require it.
Q: How can I correctly identify or distinguish a pesticide application from another agricultural production practice?
A: There are many cultural practices that are commonly mistaken for pesticide applications. These include watering dirt roads to control dust, fertilizer applications, the use of a bug vac in strawberry fields which “vaccums” up pests to reduce their populations without the use of pesticides. Occasionally strawberry growers will use a tractor rig to spray water on the strawberries to clean them after heavy rains.
You can sign up to receive an email or text notification on this website if you would like to know when a fumigant will be applied near schools in the pilot project. You can also call the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office at (831) 759-7340 to find out if an application of a restricted-use pesticide that requires a permit is scheduled near you. Not all pesticides require permits. Concerned residents are also encouraged to take photos of a cultural practice and show them to the ag commissioner’s office staff in person or via email.
Q: If farmers are applying fertilizers or conducting farming operations that don’t involve fumigants and other restricted-use pesticides, is there a requirement for them to notify the County Agricultural Commissioner and/or schools?
A: Beginning in January 1, 2018, there will be a requirement to provide annual notification to schools about pesticides that may be applied within ¼ mile of a school. The Ag Commissioner’s Office does not regulate the sale or use of fertilizers. You can learn more about fertilizers at the California Department of Food and Agriculture website. https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/ffldrs/fertilizer.html.
Q: What is the requirement for posting warning signs when agricultural pesticides are applied?
A: Posting is required for pesticide applications to growing crops for which there is a restricted entry interval of 24 hours or longer. Posting is not required for non-crop, dormant crop, pre-plant, or pre-emergent applications or when applications are not made directly onto plant foliage. However, many growers in Monterey County post notification whenever a pesticide is applied on their crops for the safety of their workers. For more information, see: https://www.co.monterey.ca.us/home/showdocument?id=1229.
Q: What are invasive species, and what threats do they pose to strawberries and other crops in Monterey County?
A: Invasive species do not occur naturally in a specific area. Their introduction is likely to cause economic harm to agricultural production, the environment or human health. The light brown apple moth, lygus bug, spotted wing drosophila, and Asian citrus psyllid are invasive species detected in Monterey County that damage strawberries and other agricultural crops. For more information, see: http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/government/departments-a-h/agricultural-commissioner/agricultural-resource-programs/pest-disease-prevention/pests-diseases-of-concern#ag.
Q: Who monitors agricultural crops to ensure they are being grown safely?
A: Pesticide use on agricultural crops is highly regulated with checks, balances and redundancies to ensure safety to human health and the environment. Every year the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office staff reviews applicable laws and regulations with farmers and pest control businesses when issuing permits for restricted-use pesticide applications. Permit holders are randomly and regularly inspected during pesticide application to ensure compliance with pesticide labels and regulations. Further, farmers are audited by county staff to ensure regulatory compliance with pesticide storage and record keeping requirements. The pesticide use enforcement staff investigates ALL complaints of illegal pesticide use, odor, and general concerns received from the industry and public.
Many produce buyers also monitor the crops they are purchasing and require a third party to conduct a ranch food safety audit at least once a year that includes ranch history, adjacent land use, fertilizer and water usage, pest control, harvest practices, employee safety and hygiene and food security. Another example is the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement. Operating with oversight by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the agreement is a mechanism for verifying through mandatory government audits that farmers are following accepted food safety practices for lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens. The audits are designed to reduce the sources of potential contamination on farms or into fields. For more information, see: http://www.lgma.ca.gov/
Q: How do I know the produce I buy at the grocery store and farmers’ markets are safe from pesticide contamination?
A: CDPR’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program is the most extensive program of its kind in the nation. It collects approximately 3,500 produce samples annually from wholesale and retail stores, farmers markets and other outlets for testing at the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s laboratories. The laboratories test for more than 300 pesticides and breakdown products. Testing indicates the vast majority of fruits and vegetables available for sale in California meet stringent pesticide safety standards. During its 2018 survey, the most recent data available, CDPR found 94 percent of tested California-grown produce had no pesticide residues on them or residues were within the legal levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency. For more information, see: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/enforce/residue/rsmonmnu.htm.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Pesticide Data Program is a national monitoring program that produces the most comprehensive pesticide residue database in the United States. The program samples, tests and reports pesticide residues on agricultural commodities in the U.S. food supply, including California, with an emphasis on those commodities highly consumed by infants and children. For more information, see: https://www.ams.usda.gov/datasets/pdp
Q: What happens when illegal pesticide residues are confirmed?
A: When illegal pesticide residues are confirmed through CDPR’s or USDA’s respective testing programs, the produce is immediately pulled from the chain of distribution to prevent it from reaching consumers and tainted lots are quarantined. An investigation is initiated. Businesses that violate California’s pesticide residue laws face fines and loss of their product. For more information, see: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pressrls/2016/160908.htm
Q: How do I find out what pesticides are being applied on farms near my home or child’s schools?
A: Beginning in January 1, 2018, there will be a requirement to provide annual notification to schools about pesticides that may be applied within ¼ mile of a school. You can sign up to receive an email or text notification on this website to learn when a fumigant will be applied near schools in the pilot project. Pesticide use records are available by submitting a public records act request. The form is posted at: http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/home/showdocument?id=1127. The public can visit the County Agricultural Commissioner’s main office at 1428 Abbott St. in Salinas during regular business hours or fax the public records act request to (831) 758-1290.
Q: If I smell an odor in the vicinity of agricultural fields, is it a pesticide?
A: Some pesticides emit odors, but others don’t. The County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office responds to all odor complaints. About half the time, the odor is determined not to be pesticide-related. Odors are also emitted by fertilizers, compost, the Elkhorn Slough, harvest of certain crops, and disking under harvested crops, like broccoli and Brussel’s sprouts, as well as other sources.
Monterey is a right-to-farm county, which means routine and ongoing farming activities are protected from nuisance lawsuits. A revised right-to-farm ordinance was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2014.
Q: What are the most common soil-borne pests and diseases that affect strawberries in Monterey County?
A: Macrophomina, fusarium and verticillium.
Q: What are the most common insects that affect strawberries in Monterey County?
A: Mites, including the cyclamen mite, lygus bug, worms, including light brown apple moth larvae, and thrips.
Q: What are the most common soil-borne pests, insects and diseases that affect vegetable crops in Monterey County?
A: Artichokes, brussel sprouts and leafy greens, also called salad greens, which include leaf and head lettuce, kale and spinach are commonly grown near the pilot project schools in Monterey County.
For artichokes, pests include aphids, armyworms and the artichoke plume moth, powdery mildew, slugs and snails, and weeds. You can learn more about the pests and how farmers manage both conventionally and organically grown crops at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/selectnewpest.artichoke.html
For Brussel sprouts, which are part of the cole vegetable family, pests include aphids, mildew, worms and caterpillars, and root diseases. For more information, see http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r108200111.html
For leafy greens, lettuce pests include armyworms and verticillium wilt and spinach pests, aphids, bacterial leaf spot and wireworms. For more information on lettuce pests, see http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/selectnewpest.lettuce.html and for spinach, http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/selectnewpest.spinach.html
Q: What are the significance of these crops to Monterey County and the nation?
A: Monterey County is known as America’s salad bowl because of its production of lettuce and numerous other crops. Monterey County is also known as the artichoke capital of the world because approximately two-thirds of the world’s artichokes are grown here. Strawberries are Monterey County’s second highest in crop value and 80% of the strawberries supplied to the nation are grown in California.
Q: What happens if pests and diseases are not properly controlled on farms?
A: Our modern food supply, public health and resource management all rely on the appropriate use of pesticides. The United Nations estimates that 20% to 40% of our global crops are lost to pests and diseases each year. Farmers utilize crop protection products (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.) to help control the numerous weed species, harmful insects and plant diseases that can afflict and damage crops which lead to economic losses for both farmers and their farm employees. Whether organic or conventional, farmers face these same challenges each growing season. But, adequate and appropriate pest and disease control is also important to consumers for two reasons: It keeps food prices down because it reduces on-farm crop losses and maintains quality by reducing damage to the fruit and vegetables we buy.
Q: What happens to empty pesticide containers?
A: Under California law, the registrants of any production agricultural-use pesticide product sold for use in California must establish or participate in a recycling program. For more information about Monterey County’s pesticide container collection and recycling procedures, see: https://www.co.monterey.ca.us/home/showdocument?id=18370
Q: What happens to leftover total impermeable films, drip tape and other plastic materials used in the fumigation process that are not reused?
A: Farmers usually store used total impermeable films until the end of the season for recycling or proper disposal. There are companies in Monterey County that specialize in recycling and proper disposal of used plastic materials used for agricultural pesticide applications.
Q: Who regulates fertilizer in California?
A: The California Department of Food and Agriculture manages a comprehensive fertilizing materials program that licenses individuals or companies who manufacture or distribute fertilizing materials, and registers labels for fertilizing materials that are sold or distributed into California. Learn more at: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/docs/Fertilizing_Materials_Guide.pdf https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/IS/ffldrs/frep/index.html