"Each year I fill a truck up with this inherited garbage and take it to the dump. Then I, of course, pay the dump fee." Chris Lange, Tulare County grower
Imagine it is a beautiful spring morning on the farm and you are riding around in your pickup truck making your early rounds. You turn the corner on a remote road on your property and discover old mattresses, stacks of used tires, couches without cushions, broken trailers, stolen cars, rotting batteries and the remnants of a methamphetamine lab dumped on your property.
Most growers do not have to imagine it. Illegal dumping on farms is a constant reality for them and they end up being responsible for cleaning up the mess.
Kings County cattle and field crop grower John Correia says that his property has become a hot spot for illegal dumping. Looking at old clothes, broken patio furniture, torn apart sofas and used refrigerators sprinkled across one area of the property, Correia said, "This is nothing. Two years ago we had about six dump loads a week of this trash. If you walk the canal you will have enough stuff to furnish a complete house."
One particular problem for him: the countless broken bottles that are thrown onto his fields.
"After they start throwing bottles, the broken glass ends up scattered all over the field and slices the tires on the farm equipment. That can cost us $1,000 per tire in some cases," Correia said.
In neighboring Tulare County, grower Chris Lange, a director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, maintains a beautiful farm near Woodlake, surrounded by hills and lush citrus groves dotted with fruit. Across from one of these picturesque spots of perfectly aligned rows of trees is an unwieldy pile of trash that seems never to go away.
The grim ingredients include everything from old toys and mattresses to used tires and all forms of garbage.
"Each year I fill a truck up with this inherited garbage and take it to the dump. Then I, of course, pay the dump fee," Lange said. "We are estimating that in a year, we haul 30 tons worth of garbage at our expense and some years it is even worse. It is not just the inconvenience of the expense, but how cleaning the mess delays your farming operation. All of a sudden, you have to clear out the trash before you can continue your tractor work or regular farming."
The mess does not stop there. Lange said thieves commonly dump stolen vehicles, many of which are burned on his property.
"The fire burns back the citrus trees and then I have to pay to replace the trees," Lange said.
Illegal dumping of unwanted trash is also a common occurrence in this area, says Yolo County Super visor Duane Chamberlain, a farmer and member of the Yolo County Farm Bureau.
"I had 12 computer modules dumped onto my ranch last year and I called the Yolo County Sheriff's Department. The deputy looked up the numbers on the modules and none of them were reported stolen, but there was nothing he could do because he didn't know who dumped them. So it was up to me to get rid of them," Chamberlain said. "The problem is, it is just so expensive to take this stuff to the landfills."
The cost for growers who are continually bombarded with trash on their properties can add up, especially if their property is a known target for dumping. In Yolo County, the cost to take common items to the landfill include: refrigerators, $15 each; dishwashers, $7 each; auto tires, $2 each; and truck tires, $3 each.
"Illegal dumping is a huge problem in our valley and it is huge in the sense that farmers are having to deal with this mess. Some people just think that farms and ranches are the public dump," said William Yoshimoto, supervising attorney and director of ACTION (Agricultural Crime Technology Information and Operations Network). "Farmers have to do the cleanup or pay to have someone pick it up. If they don't do it, it is hazardous, and it takes productive land away from them. It costs the farmer, no matter how you look at it."
To aid local law enforcement in tracking down illegal dumping suspects, Detective Jeff Tyner, Kings County Sheriff's Department Rural Crime Unit investigator, suggests that growers in the county and elsewhere in the state stay alert and provide such evidence as license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles or any other pertinent information.
"Many illegal dumping cases go unreported, so when a person is a victim of illegal dumping, they should first call the county sheriff's department so we can investigate. We are looking for any clues to identify persons who dump trash, such as tire tread impressions or shoe prints," Traynor said. "We have a no-tolerance policy when it comes to illegal dumping."
If a person illegally disposes of items along the side of the road, Traynor said, it is considered an infraction, but when dumping happens near a waterway, the offense jumps up to a misdemeanor. The infraction will earn the suspect up to a $1,000 fine and the misdemeanor is punishable by fine or up to one year in county jail.
Another option to help growers clean up illegal waste is from a grant through the California Integrated Waste Management Board known as the Farm and Ranch Solid Waste Cleanup and Abatement Grant Program. The program provides up to $1 million annually in grants for the cleanup of illegal solid waste sites on farm or ranch property.
"The Integrated Waste Management Board is really encouraging farmers to work with their local cities, counties, or resource conservation districts to apply for funding. Illegal dumping is a constant nuisance for farmers, but at least now there are some funding opportunities to help offset the expenses of cleaning up farm property," said Elisa Noble, California Farm Bureau rural crime prevention coordinator.
Sites may be eligible for funding if the parcels are zoned for agricultural use, where unauthorized solid waste disposal has occurred, and where the sites are in need of cleanup in order to abate a nuisance or public health and safety threat and/or a threat to the environment.
"Illegal dumping is a frustrating issue for farmers and ranchers, especially because it is so disrespectful. It is an unfortunate reality that farmers have faced for many years. Fortunately, we are seeing some renewed efforts to stop illegal dumping and hold suspects accountable," Noble said.
For more information about the illegal waste grant, contact grant manager Carla Repucci at (916) 341-6316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the four-part series.
(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.