Minority Crop Growers and Beekeepers Suffer Defeat in Pierre

The following synopsis is provided by the Legislative Action Committee of the South Dakota Specialty Producers Association on the proceedings related to bill HB 1171.

For the third year in a row, a bill (HB 1171) heavily supported by specialty crop growers, organic growers, beekeepers and even some conventional commodity crop growers was defeated by the South Dakota House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 11th. The discussion on HB 1171 erroneously pitted organic growers, beekeepers and specialty crop growers against big agriculture cooperatives, chemical manufacturers, pesticide dealers, and commercial pesticide aerial and ground applicators. This bill would have required limited financial responsibility (surety bond, insurance, etc.) by commercial pesticide applicators for bodily injury or property damage in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars. This is much like the required on-road vehicle insurance requirement of the state.

Specialty crop growers and producers say the bill should be about public health, food safety, fairness and financial accountability and not the percentage of land farmed by specialty crop growers or by non-conventional means versus conventionally cropped land. No groups propose the elimination of any pesticides, just their proper use and financial responsibility by the commercial applicator when damage occurs.

During testimony it was pointed out by many pesticide damaged farmers, that pesticide drift is happening at an alarming rate to crops, trees, bees and other non-targeted resources. This is occurring to both conventional and specialty crop farmers and beekeepers. Even some members of the legislative committee admitted they have sustained off-site pesticide damage to their crops.

One of the problems pointed out is that little recourse exists when a damaged party cannot get a law firm or attorney to take a case against a commercial applicator with sometimes little assets and no insurance. Lost was the fact that if all commercial applicators had insurance it would actually lead to settling crop damage issues outside of court or even outside of any insurance claims. If passed this bill would also tend to weed out, by the insurance companies, any applicators who have repeated verified damage claims. Sanctions can also be imposed by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA). SDDA has the ability to determine whether a violation of SD pesticide law has occurred and issue sanctions or fines for application, mixing and pesticide label violations but presently does not assign legal blame or determine the extent or acreage of damage in their investigation reports. Currently, most of the information in these reports is available by subpoena only. SDDA did not oppose House Bill 1171.

During discussion of HB 1171 some members of the legislative committee expressed the laissez-faire attitude that if someone buys land in South Dakota, our land of infinite variety, and tries to grow fruit, vegetables, grapes, hops or any number of other non-commodity crops, they should expect to be drifted on and damaged. This was expressed after much testimony was heard from farmers who have suffered pesticide damage. Some pesticide damaged farmers now have lung and other health problems after being physically drifted on.

This proposed financial responsibility bill for commercial pesticide applicators was a simple bill and is state law in various forms in most other Midwest states including ND, IA, MT, MO, KS, IL, MN, CO, WY. To be fair to all committee members HB 1171 failed in committee by a vote of 7 to 5. As it is today, South Dakota is essentially an open state for commercial pesticide applicators without financial responsibility or insurance for bodily injury or property damage. It is highly recommended by all sides of this issue that everyone hiring or contracting specialize work involving pesticide applications ask for proof of insurance or financial responsibility to cover bodily injury or property damage. Private applicators should also make sure their insurance covers off-site bodily injury and property damage.

The South Dakota Specialty Producers Association strongly encourages producers to register their specialty crops, organic crops and bee yard information into the DriftWatch and BeeCheck sites at FieldWatch.com. FieldWatch.com is the state approved crop registration site for South Dakota and functions as a tool intended to enhance communications that promote awareness and stewardship activities between producers and applicators. Pesticide applicators are supposed to log into this site before applying in an area and check for registered bee sites, organic crops and sensitive specialty crops.

If someone suspects pesticide damage they should go to the SDDA website, obtain or fill out a Pesticide Incident form directly on their website. The SDDA does not accept anonymous complaints.

If you believe that you, a family member, your pet, or livestock has been harmed from pesticide exposure, immediately seek medical or veterinary attention. You may also want to visit the SDpoison.org website or call 1-800-222-1222 for emergencies or questions.

SDSPA members interested in participating on the Legislative Action Committee should contact Jeff Stewart.