Commentary: Fumigation rules should remain flexible on notices

Issue Date: April 6, 2016
By Cynthia Cory
Cynthia Cory

Photo/Steve Adler

Is notification needed when field fumigation occurs? That question will be discussed at two workshops to be held next week, and Farm Bureau urges you to attend.

It's important to reiterate in public the precautions farmers take before, during and after applying fumigants—and to emphasize that current regulatory oversight remains sufficient to protect farmers, farm employees and people who live and work near farm fields.

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation has scheduled next week's workshops in follow-up to one it held a year ago. DPR says it will use information gathered at the workshops to develop a new regulation.

Farm Bureau believes it is extremely important for members of the agricultural community to attend and offer comments at these two hearings, which will be held in the Salinas area and in Fresno (see below for details).

DPR is considering whether to require that all fumigation applications follow the same residential notification requirements that now only apply to methyl bromide. Under that requirement, the owner/operator of any property that contains schools, residences, hospitals, convalescent homes or employee housing within 300 feet of the perimeter of the outer buffer zone of a methyl bromide field fumigation must be notified at least nine days prior to fumigation.

The initial notice of methyl bromide application must inform the recipient that a fumigation has been permitted and that he or she can request an additional, specific notification of the exact time the application is scheduled to commence. If requested, this second notice must be delivered in writing to the requester at least 48 hours before the start of the application. If the methyl bromide application does not take place due to labor or weather changes, re-notification is required.

The methyl bromide notification requirements were adopted before the use of total, impermeable tarps and many other improvements in application practices. With very few methyl bromide applications now occurring that actually require notification, it is an unfair comparison to extend an extremely limited-use notification to all other fumigation applications. The methyl bromide rules were put in place 14 years ago, before safety measures we have now were available.

Current law for all other fumigants allows an agricultural operator to provide notification or conduct field air monitoring for fumigation applications.

Field monitoring throughout the application is often the preferred method. It provides an effective emergency-response mechanism, because a trained employee is on hand and can stop an application, contact emergency agencies and initiate immediate remedies such as a water seal if any need arises.

Notification can work in some circumstances, but growers and applicators need the option of determining which process best fits the application site on a case-by-case basis. Consideration must be given to the cost and to the safety of farm employees who will conduct the door-to-door notification; to the farmer's personal liability if any required information is incorrect on the bilingual flyer; and the repercussions that will occur from unnecessarily alerting nearby occupants that a fumigant will be applied according to extensive rules designed to assure full protection, and explaining why they are being notified about it anyway.

Proponents of notification call it a "right to know." But where does such thinking lead us? Should you be warned when your neighbor stokes up his barbecue, or when a noisy truck picks up your garbage, or when a plane flies over your house? These are everyday occurrences that are a part of modern life.

Safe chemical applications fall into the same category. Farms use fumigants because they clean the soil and enable healthy plants to be produced using less pesticide and water. Fumigants are applied precisely and carefully, under strict regulations.

DPR is accepting comments on concepts for fumigation notification before, during and after the workshops. Any comments previously submitted in response to the April 2015 workshop in Sacramento do not need to be resubmitted.

This process about fumigation notification is separate from the DPR initiative regarding notification for pesticides applied near schools. DPR is also considering expanded pesticide application notification around schools and plans to release a proposed regulation this summer.

Please attend the fumigation-notification hearings and advise DPR about the burden providing such additional notification would place on farmers, especially smaller growers near urban areas. For example, it's important for DPR to hear details and examples of what it would mean to a farm to be required to notify all occupants 300 feet from the edge of a buffer zone of its fields.

All farmers want to apply materials safely in all circumstances, and California farmers already operate under the most stringent rules in the country. Those rules are succeeding, and DPR does not need to add another layer of unnecessary requirements.

(Cynthia Cory is director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at 916-446-4647.)


DPR workshops 

The DPR workshops on fumigation-notification requirements will be facilitated by the California State University, Sacramento, Center for Collaborative Policy. The facilitator may impose time limits for public comments based on the time available and the number of people providing comments. The workshops will be held:

April 12, from 6 to 9:30 p.m., Spreckels Veterans Memorial Building, 90 5th St., Spreckels (Simultaneous Spanish interpretation will be available.)

April 14, from 6 to 9:30 p.m., Mosqueda Community Center, 4670 E. Butler Ave., Fresno (Simultaneous Spanish and Hmong interpretation will be available.)

Written comments may be submitted by May 20 via email to or in writing to Randy Segawa, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812-4015.


Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.