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Catch My Drift: Monitoring for Pesticides in Iowa

PHOTO: A new group of Iowans has just been trained as "drift catchers" to monitor air samples for pesticides over the summer. Photo credit: D. Michael Burns.
PHOTO: A new group of Iowans has just been trained as "drift catchers" to monitor air samples for pesticides over the summer. Photo credit: D. Michael Burns.
April 14, 2014

DEWITT, Iowa - With the coming start of the growing season in Iowa, a group of volunteer "drift catchers" is preparing to spread out across the state to monitor the air for floating pesticides. Among the group is Greg King, who grows vegetables, fruits and flowers in rural DeWitt, and had some problems with agricultural drift last spring.

"It was later found out to be drift of glyphosate or Round-Up," he said. "It affected one of our crops, which was tomatoes, and they're extremely sensitive. It also affected some of the trees in our yard, curling up the leaves and in one case, one of the plants died."

According to Practical Farmers of Iowa, there were nearly 200 reported instances of pesticide drift in the state last year, although many go unseen and unreported.

King said one way rural residents and horticulture farmers can minimize the potential for pesticide drift damage is to get on the sensitive crops registry, a directory compiled by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for use by pesticide applicators.

"And it gives the various sprayers in the area an opportunity to look up your particular address in the area where they're going to be spraying and a chance to realize that perhaps they need to be more diligent," King said.

Beehives can also be registered with the state.

King said that when pesticide applicators know they're working in a sensitive area, they do have options to minimize drift.

"They can slow the machines down, slow the pumps down, drop the booms. There are several things that can work in conjunction with what I might do on my side of the fence," he said. "And in my case with a high tunnel, I would drop the sides down, close it off, turn the ventilation fans off, and that type of thing." A high tunnel is a sort of greenhouse made of plastic sheeting supported by frames.

King urged those who want to get on the registry to act before May 1, since the start of the month is frequently when applicators will review the sensitive-crops list.

Information on the sensitive-crop registry is at IowaAgriculture.gov. Details on the drift-catcher program are at PANNA.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA