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New Worker Protection Standards, Comments are DUE!!

26 Jan

The worker protection standard is a set of regulations that all farmers have to abide by.  They were put into place to make sure that training around pesticides, the way we handle pesticides and how the interaction from worker to pesticides all happens in the safest possible way.  At our farm pesticide training and handling is something that we don’t take lightly.  Having everyone go home at the end of the day to their families is something that has been ingrained into the fabric of our farm for three generations.  And with each generation we get better and better at handling situations that come along, along with new technology, new knowledge, new science and just new ways of skinning the same cat.

This past year I have been involved with a group of “stakeholders” to discuss the new EPA (Federal) Worker Protection Standards and how they are going to work with Oregon’s agricultural industry, how they will fit in, and the best ways to continue evolving and making Oregon employees safe day after day.  I wanted to be a part of this conversation because I thought that we (as farmers) were going to be given the opportunity to tell our story and discuss what will work for us, what is redundant, what needs more information and data, and overall what is the best way to go about putting these new regulations into place.  I had a very positive attitude walking into this meeting…and now months later here are my comments regarding what actually happened…and it wasn’t pretty.

***My comments are quite long, but if you’re interested (and please be interested!!!) to leave comments you can do so very easily using the Oregon farm Bureau’s website.
You can either personalize your letter or send the form letter, but either way they need to hear from us producers, I’m hoping this time they might actually listen.***

I have been very frustrated by not only the preceding of how these rules came into place, but also what has come out of the work groups.

To be honest, after attending one of the work sessions I was appalled by the lack of leadership that was shown to keep things on track and on topic.  I heard mudslinging at farmers, I heard a conversation that went far beyond what we were there to discuss at that time.  I personally, sitting there as one of the very few producers in the room was embarrassed that I had to sit through such a ridiculous soap box anti-farmer session.  It was clear that my voice, even while sitting in the room was not going to be heard by OSHA, by the labor lobbyists, or by anyone else beyond who I already knew was on my side. 

So now we have a document that is so in favor of all the soap box speeches and rants that we all had to sit through it seems like my thought of taking the high road, doing what I thought was best for our industry and standing up for that, has landed on completely deaf ears. 

Just as a small example of how well myself and my colleagues were ignored by this process, take AEZ’s.  I was a part of the conversation about how we would like to see them reduced for air blast to 25 feet if you are spraying a chemical that is labeled as only caution, and increasing that AEZ as the labels were labeled more dangerous.  This seemed straightforward, easy to understand, less complicated and more fair.  But what happened?  Instead of any give and take, these documents took what we said and turned it completely around, giving nothing and just taking more by increasing AEZ’s.  And using arbitrary numbers of distances to do so.  Not taking into account that what you’re spraying could be less dangerous, for example seaweed, and only increasing the AEZ across the board, not taking into account that no studies have been done to show that this will help anything, or that there is a problem in the first place! 

I was glad to see that there is wording in there to encourage new sprayer technology and possibly decreasing that 150 feet, but this fails to look at the technology that is already out there that is much safer!  And what about incentives for safer chemicals and chemistries?  Wouldn’t encouraging at least some give and take on AEZ be a good reason for many farmers to look into safer products?  I think it would go a long way.  But instead here we are, with distances that came from nowhere and mean essentially nothing given to us by people who have never probably even driven an airblast through an orchard.

There is good reason that the EPA is going to revisit these rules federally, because they don’t make sense.  And to take rules that federally seem to not work, and only make them more over the top for our state alone seems like a gross over reach.  It would make Oregon producers less competitive, while at the same time not really proving that much actual worker safety is being achieved.  A fine example of this would be the lack of shelter in place options.

Allowing “Shelter in Place” would go a long way in keeping employees more safe in their homes.  To wake up families in the middle of the night or early morning to get out of the their beds, out of their homes, with their kids in tow to leave the area for only a few minutes and then go back in.  It’s not safe, it will make people very uncomfortable, and I believe produce a fear of spraying and chemical use that is unwarranted.  I have a three year old and a two year old at home and am surrounded by two of our fields.  If I had to vacated our house at 3 am because that was the calmest and best spraying conditions that we could have, I would be very upset, not to mention that I’m the boss, I can’t imagine the frustration, annoyance, and angst I would feel towards someone who said I had to do that.

But let’s say you all forced me to be that bad guy who told my employees and their kids that they would have to wake up at 3am, get their children out of bed and leave their house for 15 minutes.  Let’s say I had a one very early morning window to get a critical spray on my orchard before wind and rains hit.  And let’s say that my employee simply said that no, he felt safer in his house with his family sleeping.  What then?  Who is liable for his choice to do what (and I agree with him) is actually safer and healthier for his family?  There is nothing spelled out in these documents that give any room for liability if someone refuses to do what you have informed them they must do.  There needs to be room to educate, and then allow for the liability to not land on the farmers shoulders.

Moving on beyond all of these unscientific arbitrary distances, this nonsensical not allowing of shelter in place, lack of clear liability, what exactly is all of this trying to do?  I have already shown that none of it actually looks at studies of cases in which people have been injured.  None of it actually uses any studies where they have shown that drift is decreased or worker safety is increased.  If all of this is trying to protect workers from harm that can come from them from off target applications, well then we have come to an impasse and proof that these rules are not necessary.  Because that, and off target application, is the definition of drift, which is already subject to civil penalties, which is already regulated highly from Oregon Department of Agriculture.  So I ask again, what problem here are we trying to solve?

It has been said that “farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles away from a corn field.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower.  And in cases like this is seems that this is truly the situation.  These rules ignored science, barely put efforts into finding the truths on the farm and when they were asked of us to send in information.  The timing was so bad, the timeline was so short there was no way to compile enough good data while trying to still run a farm, during harvest nonetheless.  Activism has taken over this entire process and those who employ and currently strongly protect our employees and workers were silenced.  Those who make “Farming look mighty easy…” took the wheel and drove this process and what the end result of these documents off a cliff.

I am asking you to strongly take a good long look at the implications of these regulations.  I ask you to really listen to the farmers who have been protecting workers for generations and try to be in their shoes for once.  I ask you to not let activism take control here, because in the end no one will be safer, in some cases they will be more unsafe, and you will hurt agricultural employers with undue and unsubstantiated burdens that will only hurt our industry here in Oregon.

The history of this issue is long, so if you have any specific questions or need more clarification please reach out to me either through this blog or by email.  I am always willing to discuss why we do what we do and where I’m coming from.

The Why, What and How of Spraying Clover Today

27 Oct

It is a beautiful day here in Oregon. So before the rain returns I took the opportunity to go out and spray two of our clover fields.

Why I’m Spraying:
Today I’m spraying out the wheat that is growing from the crop that we harvested this past summer.  We can’t grow the wheat as a volunteer crop, even though it looks like it would be healthy and happy, because there is a huge risk of disease.  Also this wheat was contracted seed wheat, so we can’t reproduce or replant any seeds that may have hung around another year.

All that bright green color is volunteer wheat from the 2017 crop.

I need to kill the wheat so that the crimson clover that we planted has a chance to grow.  There is so much wheat out here that it would quickly steal not only nutrients but also water, possibly even shading out the clover.  The competition is too high so the wheat has to go.

The crimson clover, our crop for 2018, are the small broadleaf plants that you see.  As you can tell, this wheat will quickly become a problem for their survival.

What I’m Spraying:
Today I’m spraying a chemical mix that is aimed at targeting only grass species so it will not hurt the small growing crimson clover.  The mix is made up of three chemicals; clethodim, crop oil, and drift reducer, and also a whole lot of water.
Why so many chemicals in this mixture that is only aimed at one species?  Well they all play their role…

  • Clethodim is the actual grass killer. It kills on contact so must be sprayed on a dry day because the rain would just wash it off the plants before they soak it in. Making the Spray useless.
  • Crop oil helps to keep the spray on the plant material and helps the plant absorb the chemical.
  • Drift reducer is used to make the mixture “heavier” so that the spray goes right where my target is.
  • The water is the carrier so I can get the correct rate of chemical equally across all the acres.

How much am I spraying?
Now this may suprise you! Per acre I’m putting on 19.64 gallons of water, 1.7 pints of crop oil, 8 ounces of clethodim, and only 3.2 ounces of drift reducer!  So literally picture a football field (which is about an acre), imagine spreading out four five gallon buckets of water, less than two pints of oil, one cup of weed killer, and a 1/3 cup of drift reducer over the entire field!!!  It’s truly incredible what you can do with spray technology, which I might add is not a new technology at all!

This “fog” that you see under my spray booms, it’s made up of 19.64 gallons of water and only 0.36 gallons of chemical!!

You can see from the picture above that the fog coming out of the spray boom really looks like I’m dowsing the crop.  But the reality is that with my sprayer, which has 80 foot booms, at the rate and pressure I’m spraying, I have to drive 22 feet before even 1 gallon total of spray mixture is applied.  Like I said, what we do is precise in many ways. 

So there you have it, the Why, What, and How of spraying volunteer wheat out of clover came to be my job for this sunny day.  If you have any questions about this application or any other sprays you hear of, just let me know.  I’m always here to answer questions about why we do what we do out here on the farm.


A Call To Action: Farmers, Ranchers, & Foresters against HB 2859

27 Feb

This Wednesday at 1pm I’m hoping to see the Oregon Capital building FULL of Oregon’s farmers, ranchers, foresters and woodland owners.  We have been hearing from our industry advocates all winter that they are going to need our help this legislative session and that time is now.

The Oregon Legislature has been scrapping for any amount of money they can get their hands on.  Our state is working with a deficit, which it seems like instead of working through the budget they have, many legislators are grasping at straws to fill the gap.  Silly ideas like a coffee tax, or old car tax have already come and gone.  But Wednesday there will be a hearing to take away tax exemptions that are so valuable to farmers in Oregon, I really can’t stress enough how it would make farming here basically impossible.

Without going into too much detail here, Oregon has a very unique land use system.  One that designates land around the state that is Exclusive Farm Use only (EFU).  This land is used to farm, and grow crops. Basically it disallows you from selling as industrial ground, or ground for housing, development, etc.  Because this limits our ability in what we can do on the land that we own, in turn the state has given us a reduced property tax on those parcels.  The state deemed that ground, because they value farm land, as the highest value being farming.  In my opinion I would have to agree, we have some of the best soil in the world here in Oregon.  So that means that I can’t turn around, sell by the square foot to developers, and make a fortune.  Because of the land use system, and the protections that have been hard fought in this state (and I believe rightly so) that ability is taken from us.

So here is the deal, if you as the state think that our farm ground is so valuable that you give us a special assessment in order to farm, why in the world would you take that assessment away, tax us the same as industrial ground, and then force us to keep it as farm ground?  It makes no sense, and you can rest assured that this gutting of farm assessments, is in turn a gutting of land use laws as they stand today.  This will break our system here in Oregon, one that has allowed me as the third generation on this farm to continue farming. The landscape in Oregon – both figuratively and literally – could change. Who really wants that?

final-112Meet the fourth generation on our farm.  These farm boys love hanging out in our fields, fields that will be too expensive to farm if HB2859 is

The other issue in this legislation is removing our personal property tax exemptions, which would end up driving farms into the ground, ending the legacy that is farming in Oregon.  Our industry by nature creates a significant amount of capital expenditure.  We have millions of dollars worth of equipment sitting in our barns, equipment that will only see the light of day for a fraction of the year.  Take a piece of harvesting equipment, like a combine for example, the cost of which could be anywhere from $350,000 to a half million dollars.  This essential piece of equipment will be used for only about 3 weeks on our farm.

So why bother to upgrade?  We update equipment on our farm as technology changes and equipment becomes more efficient for our farm, our soil, and the environment. Just like many households update appliances in their kitchens.  But how can you afford to update if every time you parked a newer piece of equipment in your barn your tax bill increased so significantly it never penciled?  I did the math, and this part of the legislation alone would take our average profit for the past 5 years.  We could never justify planning for the future on our farm, which is what we do every time we make business decisions.  My business plan is not for the next 5 years, or even the next decade, it’s what is going to be best for my grandchildren and their children.  Between land rent, land taxes and property taxes, I just don’t know how our farm would survive.

Our legislature has to take a hard look at their budget and work within their constraints.  I was at a meeting where Representative Tina Kotek spoke a few months ago and something she said made me realize how concerned we all should be this year.  I’ll paraphrase because I didn’t write down the exact quote.  “We have made a lot of good decisions for Oregonians, now we just need to figure out how to pay for them.”  This goes against everything I believe to my core, everything that business, school, farming, and life has taught me.  No, you need to find what you can pay for and THEN and only then decide on what decisions are best for Oregonians.

We seem to be living in a backwards world here and it’s scary!  So please, come and stand up for Oregon’s farmers, ranchers, foresters and woodland owners on Wednesday!  Tell the legislature that they need to work within their budget just like the rest of the real world.  They need to stand up for farm, ranch and timber!

To write a letter to your legislator you can use the link below through Oregon Farm Bureau:

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