Tag Archives: california

The innocent pyrethroids, perspectives from the bottom of the ag drainage canal

17 Jan
English: Pumping station A drainage channel le...

. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, gentle readers,

I am writing to announce that I have actually started working in my field, or more precisely, in the canals at the end of the irrigation ditches at the downhill side of my field, and I am thrilled. My job is to sample water to help California growers comply with state and federal regulations regarding nutrient and pesticide loads in their tailwater. I have no skill getting my waders un-stuck from the mud, so I only hope one day to go pro, but this is my big chance, I think.

From a debriefing session at the company headquarters I learned that there are exceedences for two organophosphate pesticides, a family of pesticides effective against many insect pests and very soluble in water. Instead, to protect waterways from further contamination, farmers are switching to more frequent use of pyrethroids, a family of pesticides extracted from the marigold family of plants and effective against a narrower range of pest insects, namely the butterfly and moth family. Pyrethroids were considered safe because they bind to soil well and they break down fairly quickly, but if they do wash down into waterways on sediment particles, they are deadly to aquatic invertebrates, and they need to be used more frequently than their organophosphate predecessors. Is switching to pyrethroids really an improvement? I have my doubts.

Am I glad to be doing something about my passion for public access to environmental quality data? You betcha!

From the ditch,

Your faithful correspondent.


Register for webinar by Dec 6 12-1 pm–factors affecting California’s youth now on an interactive map

3 Dec
UC Davis

UC Davis (Photo credit: arlen)

Are you interested in where in California our kids are getting the best chance at ‘wellbeing‘? Factors like nutrition and health risk factors are now on an interactive web-based map, free and open to the public. This info can empower us to make our regions healthier for our kids and understand what factors contribute to youth ‘wellbeing’ while learning a little bit of geography.

Check out the project, through UC Davis’s Center for Regional Change:
“Please join us for a webinar to introduce Putting Youth on the Map, a new interactive web mapping tool on youth well-being developed by the Center for Regional Change, in collaboration with ANR Cooperative Extension.

To register, go to http://tinyurl.com/PYOM1. Event#: 966143331, Password: youth.”

Ploughshares into spray nozzles–the California Tour

6 Sep
English: Wild elephants in Munnar, Kerala

English: Wild elephants in Munnar, Kerala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How will farmers feed 9 billion people by the close of this century? That is the question posed to six renowned leaders in the field of conservation farming during the Conservation Ag Systems Innovation conference tour (CASI)
On August 28th, 29th and 30th,
Jeff Mitchell, University of California Cooperative Extension Specialist,  gathered together some of the world’s great visionaries to sell conservation farming practices to California farmers, students, and agency staffpeople. Conservation farming, a term used to refer to no-till, minimum tillage and controlled traffic farming practices, is popular in the midwestern US because it saves water and cuts fuel costs while preserving soil organic matter, which has many benefits to soil fertility. No-till is also popular in South America, particularly in Brazil, while controlled traffic farming (with conventional tillage) is practiced in Tasmania, an island off the coast of Australia, for the purpose of reducing soil compaction on the cropped rows while improving traction on the trafficked rows.

Don Reicosky from Morris, MN, a retired USDA ARS employee, explained the nuts and bolts of tillage and likened it to natural disasters for soil microorganisms. The best tillage is no-till, he explained.
Rolf Derpsch from Paraguay, who has worked in Brasil, Argentina, Somalia and Germany, explained why conservation tillage not only saves water but also reduces the need for fertilizer because soil microbes and organic matter act as a slow release fertilizer, protecting ground and surface water from contamination. He said that early adoption of no-till in South America was easier to support than here in the US because there was no initial attachment to what we call conventional tillage, and the yield increases with less gas and less fertilizer inspired the spread of conservation farming there.

Clay Mitchell from Geneseo, IA grows corn and soybeans alternating in a north-south direction to maximize profitability based on market prices for those two commodities, but that is not all. This farmer has combined controlled traffic farming with satellite GPS (Global Positioning System) technology, and an awe inspiring data collection protocol which allows him to micromanage the fertilizer application based on things like prior yield in a particluar square foot of field. Tillage has long been considered the primary way to get rid of weeds and make the fertilizer applications and rooting depth more uniform. With no-till, surface application of soil ammendments like lime (calcium or calcium-magnesium carbonates) could be inconsistent and will only reach a depth of a few centimeters during a growing season, so Mr. C. Mitchell advises crop rotations rather than tillage to incorporate surface applied lime at depth, and he relies on satellites to position his fertilizers exactly where they are most needed rather than tilling for greater uniformity. This is a real engineering problem solving strategy, but weed control

Jerry Hatfield spoke about what the EPA and the California Air Quality Control Board want from soil, and how much more food we will need to produce on the same land. These two ideas do not conflict–by keeping more carbon on the ground, soil water holding capacity goes up, meaning that less irrigation water is needed and droughts are less severe. Water use efficiency increases as does productivity per unit fertilizer, giving us some hope for the future, when worldwide land area will decrease while demand will be as high in the next 10 years as in the previous 100 years.

John McPhee of Burney, Tasmania explained how GPS technology can aid in controlled traffic farming which reduces erosion and compaction, improving drainage and allowing cultivation and planting sooner after rain events. He said that tillage was an integral part of his operation and it was not popular to consider no-till systems in Tasmania. He likened the soil microbes to an elephant per acre, and the residue left in the field as food for the elephant -FEED the Elephant!

I would like to suggest that there was another elephant in that room. Herbicides. There is no such thing as organic no-till. Tillage is a wonderful alternative to herbicides and with all the hype about overuse of Roundup and other easily available potent herbicides, which results in herbicide resistance in common weed species such as Palmer Amaranth. Mr. Clay Mitchell of Iowa explained that he rotated his herbicides by rotating his GMO corn and soybeans from Roundup Ready varieties to Liberty Link varieties (the first can tolerate lots of the herbicide Roundup, or Glyphosate, and the second can handle a lot of Glufosinate, an herbicide with a different mode of action. Rotating modes of action is smart to prevent resistance in weed species, but mechanical control is the only option for organic growers, so if we stop plowing, we protect the environemnt from carbon dioxide and particulate matter but this system depends on constant innovation of herbicide chemistries to keep up with herbicide resistance, and constant new developments in the world of GMO’s to allow excessive herbicide applications. The herbicide question looms large in my mind, particularly for the developing world, where transportation infrastructure increases the cost of everything from fertilizer to herbicide to parts for fancy GPS directed no-till equipment. So feed the soil microbial elephant, and give that herbicide elephant a few peanuts too, while you’re at it–the future of humanity and food security depend on it!

Advice for pesticide handlers and survivalists: Do not overestimate the power of a gas mask!

19 Aug
English: S10 Gas Mask Respirator Avon

English: S10 Gas Mask Respirator Avon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In studying the laws and regulations for pest control in the state of California, I came across a shocking pamphlet that made me worry for the safety of all those workers that have to spray volatile chemicals for a living, and even all those hairy mountain men that stockpile canned goods, weapons and, yes, gas masks, for the end of days. As a blogger, I am not encouraging or opposing this idea, but buying gas masks on line that are not fitted to your face and don’t accommodate any facial hair (if you have any), gives a person a false sense of security in the face of chemical exposure, so READ ON:

•If you have a beard, a bushy mustache,or long sideburns, a regular respirator won’t protect you because the mustache, beard or sideburns keep it from making a tight seal on your face. You need to use a special respirator.
•If your foreman doesn’t have one of these special respirators, you cannot do the work.”Excerpted from California Department of Pesticide Regulation‘s publication PSIS A-5.

For the rest of us who may be required to apply pesticides in the course of their employment, we may feel that well fitted gas masks provide complete protection against inhalation of fumes. Well, if that is what you have come to believe, keep in mind that one of the ways employers know when to change a filter is when YOU report an unusual smell or taste. READ ON.

Most respirators do not really clean the air.What they do is stop most harmful chemicals from getting into your lungs. They dothis with special filters. But these filters stop working after a while. Then the pesticide will pass through and you will breathe it in. If you notice a smell or taste, if your eyes or throat burn, or if it gets hard for you to breathe, leave the area RIGHT AWAY. Go to a safe area that contains nopesticides. Then take off your respirator and look at it carefully. Is it torn or worn out? If there are no cracks or other problems you can see, you may need to change the filter.
Because many pesticides do not have a smell or cause irritation, your employer must replace the filter often.
•when directions on the pesticide label say so, or
•when the respirator maker says it should be replaced, or
•when you first notice smell, taste or irritation, or
•at the end of each workday.
Follow the rule that replaces the filter soonest.
REMEMBER: Respirators only protect you from breathing chemicals. Most of the time when pesticides are used, protecting your skin is also important.”

Excerpted from California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s publication PSIS A-5.

Employers are required to provide complete information about the chemicals that you may be applying and their effects on you and the environment, and they are required as well to provide working, fitted protective equipment, including gas masks for volatile chemicals. If these excerpts frighten you or make you angry, read the fine print on the bottle,  ask questions, and don’t work with a chemical until you understand the risks–find your employer’s Material Safety Data Sheets for the chemicals that you apply and READ ON!!!

Well-Water Consumption and Parkinson’s Disease in Rural California.

4 Mar

Why are there no pesticide well water standards? I have spoken to landowners who would rather not have their well water tested for fear that their property values will go down. Aquifers are connected.

Gatto NM, Cockburn M, Bronstein J, Manthripragada AD, Ritz B, 2009 Well-Water Consumption and Parkinson’s Disease in Rural California. Environ Health Perspect 117(12): doi:10.1289/ehp.0900852