Farmer Snapshot: Expert Q&A on Pesticides

We’ve seen some pretty crazy language about farming, pesticides, and our fruit and veggies. From the concrete jungle (we’re based in downtown Washington, D.C.), it can be hard to know what’s really going on with our food out on the farm. We spoke with Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, a Registered Dietitian, Maryland farmer, and author of the blog The Foodie Farmer, to get some straight answers on pest control and food safety.

farmer-responsible-land-stewardship

How do farmers apply pesticides, and why are they important?

First, when we spray, we don't "douse.” The definition of "douse" means to drench or to pour, which is exactly what we are not doing.

Secondly, all pesticides (fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides), whether they are organic or synthetic, have a "rate per acre." That rate is the concentration that should be mixed and applied to be effective against a target pest.

Thirdly, whether a product is organic or synthetic is irrelevant. Both are "toxic" and how it is developed does not necessarily make one safer than another.

With fungicides in fruits and vegetables, we are spraying to protect the foliage because diseases that impact the health of the leaves will result in fruits and veggies that don't ripen. The leaves function to convert sunlight into carbohydrates to give the plant energy. Without healthy leaves, the plant can't send enough carbs to its "produce" to ripen.

As a mom, what do you think is the most important thing people should know about pesticide use and its impact on health?

The most important thing for moms to remember is to be careful what you are doing yourself, in terms of pest control. According to the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, "Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, and they spend more per acre, on average, to maintain their lawns than farmers spend per agricultural acre." More often than not, homeowners are not wearing the mandatory protective equipment that is specified on every pesticide label, exposing themselves and others unnecessarily. Homeowners are more likely to "douse" because you may spray until the liquid drips off the plant. Exactly what we farmers don't do.

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What is something that typically surprises consumers about farmers’ use of pesticides?

Farmers follow strict pre-harvest intervals, which are the EPA-approved number of days between an application and when the crop can be harvested. This ensures that the lowest level of residue is present.

More questions? Ask a farmer! Jennie takes questions on Facebook and Twitter, and you can use #AskAFarmer on twitter to reach a great group of farmers who are available for questions from the public.

For more information on pesticides, check out:

This Q&A was based on ‘Spraying Isn't Dousing,’ originally posted on The Foodie Farmer. Check it out for more detail on the science and safety of farmers’ pest control.

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