Op-Ed

Op-Ed

Farm Bureau director writes to mayor about spraying concerns in Ojai Valley

Re: Oct. 8 Ojai City Council agenda item 1i, “Letter to Ventura County Board of Supervisors and Agricultural Commission Requesting Advance Public Notification of Pesticide Application Time, Location and Amount”:
Farm Bureau of Ventura County represents the interests of several hundred citrus growers, conventional and organic, with operations in the Ojai Valley. We find the staff report supporting this request appalling for several reasons, and urge you to remove this item from the consent calendar. We ask that the council then reject it.
It is clear that no commercial growers, pest-control operators, pest-control advisors or any other experts were consulted in the preparation of the report purporting to justify this request to the Board of Supervisors and the county agricultural commissioner. It is equally clear that staff simply adopted the talking points of a group of anti-pesticide activists as a rationale for the request, without any attempt at verifying their claims. Even for a city as small as Ojai, it is inappropriate to outsource staff’s responsibility to research the basis of a proposed council action in this fashion.
This failure of due diligence is especially unfortunate because the case laid out by the activists rests on a pastiche of falsehoods, half-truths, unsubstantiated allegations and unverifiable anecdotes. And some of them are repeated in the staff report.
For example, although air temperature inversions sometimes do occur in the valley, they are not a constant presence and they are not unique to this area – they also form over the Oxnard Plain and other growing regions. When they do occur, state and federal regulations prohibit pesticide applications to minimize the chance of spray drift. Chemical labels include warnings to this effect. There is no evidence that “toxic synthetic pesticides drift in the air for days” in the Ojai Valley or that “pesticide laden dust” poses a threat under these conditions.
Wind-borne dust may be a problem in the valley — although the conditions required for an inversion to form include little to no air movement — but modern pesticides break down fairly quickly into inert forms in the environment. They do not remain toxic for months or years the way previous generations of chemicals did, and the report cites no evidence that toxic residues in the soil are being mobilized by the wind.
The report’s presentation of the history of the Asian citrus psyllid invasion is misleading and incomplete, focusing solely on the apparent ineffectiveness of the quarantines established by the state to slow movement of the pest. Again, this buys into the false narrative offered by the antipesticide activists in the valley that the spray program has failed and should therefore be abandoned.
There has never been any illusion on the part of growers or regulators that the quarantines and spray programs would eradicate or prevent the spread of ACP. No program anywhere in the world has ever accomplished that. The goal of the program California and Ventura County is ACP suppression — reducing the vector population to the lowest possible level to reduce the chances the bugs will find and spread the bacterium that actually causes the fatal citrus disease.
The staff report fails to note that Huanglongbing disease has spread throughout Los Angeles Orange and Riverside counties, and that early detection techniques indicate the bacteria is in Ventura County as well. This makes effective psyllid suppression here more important, not less, than ever before. Anyone advocating for Ojai Valley citrus growers to abandon their spray programs or revert to less effective materials is advocating an end to Ojai Valley citrus altogether.
That’s what the science says.
It is incorrect to imply that the only reason conventional growers aren’t growing organically or using integrated pest management is because they don’t know about these techniques and require education and public investment to mend their ways. There’s a distasteful and insulting element of condescension in that assumption. Growers are professionals running complicated businesses, and they are experts in the various types of production systems because their livelihoods depend on making profitable choices. They grow the way they do — whether conventional, organic or “regenerative” — because they’ve made a conscious decision to do so after weighing all relevant factors.
Our members are as concerned about public health and safety as any other members of the community, and they adhere to rigorous regulatory requirements intended to protect residents and the environment from the potential effects of pesticide applications. Most farmers live on their ranches and are raising their families there; to imply they take a cavalier attitude toward the use of these crop-protection tools is also deeply insulting. They value the lives of their children every bit as much as their non-farming neighbors value the lives of theirs.
A great deal of the discord now erupting in this community over agricultural pesticide use — a conversation that should expand to focus as well on homeowners, whom the EPA says account for 20 percent of American pesticide consumption — traces back to the lack of scientific data about the degree of potential public exposure. It is premature for the Ojai Council to urge the county to adopt an onerous and impractical new regulatory scheme before it determines whether there’s an actual problem needing to be solved. Assertions and anecdotes are not evidence; a legally defensible conclusion requires proof.
To this end, we would suggest the city arrange with a neutral third party, such as the Air Pollution Control District or University of California, to establish a small network of air-quality sampling stations in the Ojai Valley. Ill-informed public hysteria seldom leads to good policy outcomes, but with facts in hand, members of the community can work together to build a sustainable future.

 

— John Krist is the chief executive officer of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.
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