In May 2016, the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office announced a pilot project to enhance protection of children when pesticides are applied on farms near three schools – Ohlone Elementary, Pajaro Middle School and Hall District Elementary. This first-of-its kind project in the nation was developed in response to concerns about pending pesticide applications and other questions related to pesticide use near schools. Recently, this pilot project was expanded to include notifications to all schools in North Monterey County Unified School District.
Q: Why did Monterey County launch the pilot project?
A: Agriculture is the largest driver of Monterey County’s economy. In response to increased interest and concern about pesticide usage near schools, the County Agricultural Commissioner decided to make information more readily available to the community, including parents, teachers and school administrators, about organic and conventional farming activities. Making this information easily accessible in both English and Spanish will lead to better understanding of how food is grown in Monterey County and avoid misinterpretation of agricultural practices.
Q: What is the pilot project?
A: A five-day notice is given to the schools in the pilot project when fumigant pesticides are applied within one-quarter mile, or 1,320 feet. The Monterey County Ag Commissioner already restricts California restricted pesticide applications within 500 feet of a school site one hour before, during, and one hour after school hours. Growers voluntarily agree to this practice when applying non-restricted pesticides which includes pesticides used for organic farming. The pilot project also includes development of this user-friendly website where the community can readily access meaningful information about pesticide usage around schools.
Q: How does the pilot project differ from current notification practice?
A: Regulations require farmers to obtain a permit for fumigant applications from the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office and also inform them of the planned fumigant application schedule. Under the pilot project, parents, teachers, school officials and the community will be automatically alerted via an email system that a fumigant will be applied near their school. The email alert system will provide the location of the application, the scheduled day of application and the materials to be applied.
Q: How were the schools in the pilot project selected?
A: They were selected because of their proximity to fields where crops are grown.
Q: How are the schools notified?
A: School officials, teachers and parents will sign-up via the farmingsafelynearschools.com website to receive email alerts. Those who sign up will receive automatic email notifications in advance of a fumigant application.
Q: How are schools and parents utilizing this information?
A: The County Agricultural Commissioner’s primary objective is to provide an additional measure of understanding and confidence in the regulatory system for agricultural pesticide use that has many layers of protection for human health and the environment. California has the strictest pesticide regulations in the country. With this information, parents will feel confident that agricultural pesticide applications allowed under these tight restrictions will not affect their children’s health at school. The commissioner recognizes that school attendance is critical to higher academic achievement for all students.
Q: Why was a quarter-mile selected for notification rather than a mile as requested by advocates?
A: A quarter mile is sufficient to prevent unintentional drift of pesticides over areas where children congregate. There is no reliable science to justify wider barriers. Farmers already face increasing costs and loss of land available for production due to buffer zone requirements and other restrictions to protect farm workers and people living near fields. More restrictions could push food production to other states and countries with far less oversight to protect human health and the environment.
Q: How long will the pilot project last and what’s the next step?
A: The goal is for Monterey County to apply what is learned from the pilot project and consider eventual expansion of the notification systems in other areas of the county in the near future.
Q: How is the pilot project affected by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (CDPR) proposed rules on agricultural pesticide use near schools and child day-care centers?
A: In January 2018, CDPR implemented regulations designed to provide further protections to children when agricultural pesticides are applied within a quarter mile of public K-12 schools and child care centers from Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The regulation includes all applications by aircraft, sprinklers, air-blast, all fumigant applications, and most dust and/or powder pesticide applications such as sulfur. The pilot project complements and seeks to potentially expand notification processes to schools, parents and the community. For more information on the regulation, see: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pressrls/2017/110717.htm
Q: How is the pilot program being funded?
A: Through the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s Office and CDPR grants.