San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

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By Craig W. Anderson

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has adopted new rules to "further protect young students from pesticide exposure," the DPR said in a statement. It also extolled the new rule as being "among the toughest in the nation."

The regulation was created and adopted after gathering public and stakeholder opinions over two years via three formal hearings and 15 public workshops around the state.

However, farmers and ag groups have criticized the new rule. They say they're being unfairly targeted due to school campuses being built on land at the edge of towns that has been farmed long before suburbia, schools and students arrived. Farm Bureau has been involved from the beginning and its input was instrumental in preventing a number of extreme proposals. Those include not allowing any spraying at all and requiring farmers to notify every parent about what was planned regarding pesticide applications.

New rule begins Jan. 1, 2018
When 2018 arrives, California farmers will be prohibited from spraying pesticides within a quarter-mile of public K-12 schools and licensed daycare centers from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the school week, the department said in a statement.

"These rules will help to further protect the health of children, teachers and school staff from unintended pesticide exposure," said Brian Leahy, DPR director. "They build on our existing strict regulations and give an additional layer of protection that is now consistent across the state."

Ferrari defends ag
"Who sprays near schools nowadays?" said SJFB President Jim Ferrari, who farms near Linden. "Farmers certainly don't spray when kids are there and they already report to neighbors what they're going to apply."

He said the Spray Safe program, initiated, organized and presented by the San Joaquin agricultural community, will take on more importance "and I expect attendance will be up significantly in 2018."

In particular, Ferrari said he hoped school districts would send their maintenance personnel to Spray Safe to ensure that applications by school and district employees would be safe for students, teachers and staff.

Large numbers affected
Some counties in the state currently require buffer zones between schools and areas of pesticide application but the new rule is the first statewide mandate covering 4,100 schools and daycare centers and an estimated 2,500 California fa

Ag proactive
The ag industry already has in place some of the requirements of the DPR's new regulation. For example, over its nearly 20 year existence, Spray Safe has advocated telling landowners, schools, cities and anyone who might be affected by various applications about what will be applied and when. The DPR's new mandate requires farmers to annually tell schools and county agriculture offices about what pesticides they expect to use near schools and daycare operations. It will be the responsibility of school officials to use the option of sharing the information with parents.

Schools created the problem
"It's not like we're out searching for schools to plant crops around; agriculture was here for decades before school districts searched for cheap land to build schools on," said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. "School districts need better siting criteria. Instead, we now have another incremental regulation, another step to overregulating agriculture."

Blodgett added, "No one's arguing that we have to do whatever's necessary to protect our children. Farmers are aware of neighboring schools and don't spray pesticides that could harm children when they're present, as it is our children who attend these schools."

Alternatives allowed
The regulation also allows a school, grower and the agricultural commissioner to create "alternative application restrictions that provide an equal or greater level of protection to those provided by the regulation," said the DPR statement.

San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Pelican said, "Our office will be a contact as a version of the program is sent to school administrators, followed by the version for growers. We'll be available to answer any questions or meet with individual groups to help clarify any questions."

Blodgett said, "This regulation is far from perfect, but we were able to inject some sanity into the process and we deterred many of the original proposals that would have been disastrous."