As parents, farmers, and community members ourselves, we care as much as anyone else about the health and well-being of our families, neighbors and environment.
A buffer zone is typically an untreated area between an agricultural field and a protected structure or area. Currently, there are no across-the-board, “one size fits all” buffer zones mandated for pesticide users, and with good reason: the scientific evidence does not support buffer zones as the best approach to minimize undesired drift; and the factors that influence drift of pesticide sprays have been well studied (Ozkan and Zhu). Each pesticide label contains essential instructions on how to apply the product (Penn State Extension Bulletin). Professional pesticide applicators receive extensive training on how to apply pesticides properly, and it is in fact a violation of federal law to use any pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.
In reality, farmers do not rely on a single method of pest control, but rather, they use a variety of management practices to control pests and to minimize or avoid the movement of pesticides away from the intended application areas. Like many farms around the globe, the seed farms in Hawaii use a multi-pronged approach to pest management called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is fundamental to modern agricultural operations. It considers all available tools (agronomic, biological, and chemical) to limit crop damage.
As examples, farmers may ―
- use physical barriers to keep pests out of fields, akin to window screens that keep flies out of your home;
- plant cover crops that suppress weeds, improve soil healthy and increase biodiversity; and
- promote biological controls (e.g., ‘good bugs’ eating ‘bad bugs’).
Fields are evaluated frequently to monitor plant health and pest populations. Should pest pressures increase to a level where pesticides become necessary, very precise sprayers can ensure that the right amount is applied in the right location. In modern agriculture, precision pesticide application takes into account various factors, such as spray droplet sizes, lower air pressures, minimum heights for spray release, shielding of spray equipment, and acceptable wind speed and direction. Combining technologies, tools and best practices will provide the most accurate placement of the pesticide application.
In some cases, a pesticide’s label may require a specific buffer zone for its application. That determination is based upon extensive scientific data, gathered prior to that pesticide being approved for use by federal and state authorities. And, as mentioned earlier, pesticide applicators are required by law to follow those label instructions.
You may be surprised to learn that farmers in Hawaii are actually a minority user of pesticides, collectively accounting for only about one-third of all restricted use pesticides sold in the state. The seed companies that operate in Hawaii account for less than 5 percent of restricted-use pesticides.
Data gathered by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) and the Hawaii Department of Health (HDO) indicate that farming operations, including the seed companies, are not a cause of concern regarding pesticide use.
- In 2015, the HDOA reported that, out of 16 school evacuations in the last 8 years due to complaints about pesticides, none were due to activities of seed companies. (10 were due to homeowners, 1 to a turf grower, 1 to a school custodian, 1 was because of a mulch pile, and 3 could not be attributed to pesticide.)
- A 2014 HDOH and HDOA study of pesticides in surface water samples taken throughout the state found that urban areas on Oahu showed the highest number of different pesticides.
Penn State Extension Bulletin
Ozkan and Zhu, Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet