By Craig W. Anderson

More than 250 members of the San Joaquin County agricultural community attend the 10th annual Spray Safe event developed by farmers and applicators to control drift and protect work and public health. Again, Spray Safe demonstrated San Joaquin County agriculture's and Farm Bureau's continued commitment to safe farming.

Joe Valente, Kautz Farms vineyard manager, Spray Safe Planning Committee chair and session moderator, opened the proceedings. "This program gives us the opportunity to think about what we're doing and do it right."

He said it is vital that farmers and applicators "be aware of your neighbors, have a good relationship with them, and be alert for weather conditions, school buses, joggers and field workers in the area."

Valente thanked the San Joaquin Farm Bureau and other sponsors and noted there is no charge for the Spray Safe program.

San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Pelican said in his welcoming address that "the agricultural industry and growers drive this program. Regulation is an ongoing topic but an aspect of ag here is bees, a main and important issue that will be dealt with today. A regulation has been proposed that would mandate beekeepers register where their bees are in order to reduce bees killed by applications."

Protecting Surface Water Quality

The first presentation of the day by Sarah Lucchetti of the San Joaquin Delta Water Coalition, opened with a discussion on the importance of identifying and protecting sensitive sites near pesticide applications. "The coalition's monitoring waterways and potential runoff areas," Lucchetti said. "We have many sampling sites consisting of both core and regular sites. We're monitoring algae toxicity from the Delta and have established pesticide protocol to track their effects."

She said farmers need to be careful regarding sediment runoff and proximity to watery areas. Know the label of what's being applied, the potential of drift occurring, make use of available resources, and have a nitrogen plan and a Sediment and Erosion Control Plan.

The paperwork for all this – and virtually everything a farmer does – must be in a central location to be inspected," Lucchetti said.

Herbicide resistance

Mick Canevari, UC Extension emeritus, covered practices that "contribute to herbicide resistance, how it occurs, the scope of the problem and understanding how quickly it develops, how to prevent resistance, and practices to manage the issue once it's confirmed."

He said resistance is accelerating and becoming more of a problem and "when the weeds become resistant, you can't use that pesticide again."

Canevari pointed out that companies developing new herbicides usually require 10 years to get a new material registered at a cost of $300 million. To get the best use of the herbicide after that level of development, he said applicators need to "check the label and all means of application and make certain the material is applied correctly." Even that may not ensure success: "New herbicides were developed in the mid-'70s and now more than 160 weed groups are resistant."

"Change up the herbicide, pesticide, fungicide," he said. "Know your weeds and know your fields. Start with clean fields; we've gotten away from tillage and cultivation. The best herbicide is steel."

Laws and regulations

Barbara Huecksteadt, San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner's office, said, "We want to protect our valuable crops, valuable environment and valuable workers."

Huecksteadt pointed out that San Joaquin County is first in California in the variety of crops grown, all of which is monitored by 18 licensed field staff members who covered 557, 000 crop field acres out of an office that issued 2,000 spray permits last year.

"We're fourth in the state in total pesticides applied," she said, adding that regulations protect the environment by establishing provisions for restrictions, public hearings that bring problems to light, and creating groundwater protection areas due to runoff and leaching from irrigation.

The office also works to prevent dormant insecticide contamination by not allowing them to be applied within 100 feet of a waterway.

Volatile Organic Compounds are regulated to protect our air. Field fumigants have a lot of regulations and certain materials are prohibited from use during spring and summer months on seven crops: alfalfa, potatoes, walnuts, almonds, citrus, cotton and grapes.

Personal Protection Equipment, special equipment, such as closed systems to load hazardous materials were described and discussed by Huecksteadt.

Bee awareness

Mark Allen of Nufarm Agriculture, Inc. said, "Beekeepers and growers must and do work together because without bees you'd have no almonds. In fact, even self-pollinators need bees."

Pesticide labeling interpretation for bee protection, bee biology and behavior with time of pesticides, best management practices when applying near bees were topics Allen delved into. 

The communication between growers and beekeepers is "vital. Letting the beekeeper know when you're spraying allows him to move the bees to a safe location. Apiary site registration is important and if not done, serious application problems could result in a significant drop in bee population," Allen said. "Bees have a short life-span anyway because they literally work themselves to death in just three to four months," so getting zapped by errant pesticide applications is not a good thing.


Don Schukraft, CEO of Certified Consulting Meteorologist, said, "All aspects of the weather affect various application methods and pesticide formularities." Schukraft has installed a weather network in the county, helped by "significant contributions by Joe Grant, pomologist emeritus."

His system not only forecasts and provides relevant detailed information about weather in general for any area in California, it also forecasts frost. "And the data can be accessed via a smart phone.

"My weather station field unit also calculates bee hours at a rate of one sample per second for temperature and wind, all solar powered with the information transmitted by the unit's dish antenna," Schukraft said.

Growers Perspective & Implementation

Jake Samuel of Sunrise Fresh, and Jessica Costigliolo, food safety coordinator, discussed where growers share their ideas and methods to develop a workplace culture that puts the environment and the public first when making an application for applying materials.

"There is a great deal of documentation that is necessary, but farmers can cope with it," said Costigliolo. "The grower assumes the responsibility to communicate to their workers that Spray Safe involves a mindset that places workers, the public and our environment at the highest priority."

The duo discussed trainings – yearly with third-party groups and self-training – while Samuel is observing employees, he lets them know he cares. "Postings are required in your facility and you can meet with your crew regarding what's going on. Always keep lines of communication open."

"Growers will present their safety procedures before, during and after an application," said Costigliolo. A lot of detail is involved with meeting the requirements of applying materials safely and storing them safely. They spoke about containment, transporting chemicals and that BMP should be used throughout.

Samuel said that when applying materials out in the field, all the details and paperwork needs to be present in a binder and that "it's important to write everything down."

And even if the farmer isn't doing the application but a custom applicator is, Costigliolo said, "All the documents are needed from the custom applicator because the farmer who hired the custom applicator is still entirely responsible."

A major aspect promoted by Spray Safe is to allow employee empowerment to make real-time decisions and the importance of communication with all those affected directly or indirectly by an application.

The Spray Safe checklist

Before a pesticide application, review this checklist to ensure that all safety precautions are in place to prevent drift and protect workers and neighbors.

The checklist: Think about the consequences; watch for work crews, cars, pedestrians and others; talk to your neighbors; inform your workers; prepare fields properly; check wind patterns and weather conditions; and communicate with your applicator.