03/05/14 8:00am
03/05/2014 8:00 AM
Talmage Farm Agway worker Rachel Harrison-Smith with a customer last week in Riverhead. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Talmage Agway worker Rachel Harrison-Smith with a customer in Riverhead. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Water quality advocates are up in arms over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to roll back a 1996 law that requires commercial users of pesticides to report information to the state. Instead, the governor is looking to “streamline” pesticide tracking by keeping tabs on sales.

Advocates statewide are saying the existing law should be strengthened, not revoked.

The Pesticide Reporting Law, which was spearheaded by Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), requires pesticide applicators such as landscapers and exterminators, to report to the state Department of Environmental Conservation each year, outlining exactly when, where and the type of pesticides they had used. It also requires large distributors who sell restricted pesticides to private users, such as farmers, to report similar information.

Mr. Cuomo wants to restructure that reporting system — requiring all retailers that sell pesticides, right down to the nearby hardware corner, to report their sales from major distributors — with the aim of getting an even better understanding of pesticide use within the state, according to an executive budget proposal.

The proposal, according to Mr. Cuomo’s office, would have the added benefit of tracking residential use, not just commercial.

But in a letter to state legislators, signed by representatives from 40 different environmental and heath advocacy groups, including Group for the East End, the North Fork Environmental Council, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, the advocates called the change “grossly inadequate and represents a significant step back in the right-to-know principle that people expect.”

The 1996 law, championed in part by Long Island breast cancer advocacy groups, was meant to provide transparency in chemical use on Long Island — so researchers could better understand how pesticides might impact human illness, according to the letter signed by advocacy groups.

The information on chemical uses collected under the law was then compiled by the state DEC, and released publicly in an annual report — providing the public, researchers, and health professionals with information on chemicals being used within their communities, according to past reports.

Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens, an environmental advocacy group, said the potential move would take away the public’s ability to see exactly where chemicals are being used, during a time when researchers are still trying to better understand such pesticides’ affects on water quality.

“You would not want to lose those information on those specific sites and uses,” Mr. Amper said.

But the last annual report was completed in 2005, according to the state DEC website, which also noted that there were “concerns regarding the quality of the data received from the regulated community.”

DEC officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Environmentalists say a strengthened law, improving the quality of the information applicators must report, would provide data not just for health studies, but also for agricultural, ecological, water and air quality research — which often goes on to be used in creating public policy at local, state, and national levels.

While large distributors may be used to reporting such information — since they have to do so under the current law — for smaller retailers, it could mean added paperwork and overhead, said Bill Van Schaick, manager of Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead.

“The burden is just being shifted from users in the industry to the retailers who provide them with their products,” he said. “I understand the point behind it, we want pesticides to be used responsibly and we all want to protect the environment — but they are putting all that burden on us.”

Mr. Van Schaick said depending on what retailers will be required to report, it could ultimately mean a reduction in the number of options a store could offer to its customers.

“We may look to cut down the number of items we offer,” he said. “It may be easier to track 300 items, rather than 1,000 items.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

09/07/13 10:00am
09/07/2013 10:00 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Farmer KK Haspel, owner of The Farm in Southold, said biodynamic preparations cost her as little as $8 an acre.

It’s easier to work with Mother Nature than to fight her, according to some North Fork farmers.

These farmers don’t use conventional farming methods – applying synthetic pesticides and fertilizers — but they aren’t considered “certified organic” either, although their growing techniques involve only natural materials.

They farm using biodynamics.

The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association describes this technique as “a spiritual, ethical, and ecological” approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition. It dates back to the 1920s, when a group of farmers became concerned with the declining health of the soils, plants and animals on their land, according to the association.

“The basic premise is to bring the natural ecosystem and natural local ecology back on to your farm,” said Barbara Shinn, owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck. She described it as “restorative farming.”

Ms. Shinn said synthetic fertilizers and pesticides upset a farm’s natural ecosystem, stripping away healthy organisms as well as the pests they are designed for.

“It’s about balance,” said KK Haspel, owner of The Farm in Southold. “When you have a lot of pests it’s an indication there is an imbalance in your soil.”

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Blueberries grown using biodynamic preparations on the vine at KK’s The Farm.

Instead of chemicals, these farmers use what they call “preparations” made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs, Ms. Haspel said.

Different preparations add microbes back into the soil, stimulating effects like root growth and photosynthesis, combating fungus and regulating the plant’s use of nitrogen naturally bound up in the soil, according to the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics Inc., which makes the preparations.

“It increases the microbial action exponentially in the soil,” Ms. Haspel said, who began planting biodynamically in 2000 and attended a year-long course at the institute to learn about the different farming methods.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | An infestation of insects indicates an imbalance of microbes in the soil, according to the owner, who said she does not use any pesticides on the farm.

Other techniques include following a calendar that estimates the best days for germination when planting seeds, and leaving parts of the farm untouched.

Ms. Haspel said she farms only two of her five acres.

Both she and Ms. Shinn said that, aside from helping the environment, there is a cost benefit to biodynamic farming.

The preparations cost between $5 and $8 per acre and are simply mixed with water. The solutions are then applied by hand using a whisk-type tool, Ms. Haspel said.

“I can say with using the natural additions to my soil, and not man-made fertilizer, I estimate I save approximately $2,000 a year just on soil additions alone,” Ms. Shinn said.

She began the transition to biodynamic farming in 2004, wanting to take a more organic approach to maintaining her vineyard. She said she relies on books and seminars to learn the farming methods.

Biodynamic farming, she said, allows her vineyard to use the yeast that occurs naturally on the grapes’ surface for fermentation.

“What you’re growing is going to be a much more natural reflection of the farm and of the place your food and wine is growing from,” Ms. Shinn said. “We’ve definitely seen an evolution in our wines. Our wines have become much more complex much more concentrated and definitely have an earthy characteristic.”

Those who take a biodynamic approach “treat their farm as a single living organism,” Ms. Shinn said.

“It is a whole different way of thinking and doing things,” Ms. Haspel said. “I’m doing it, and I am doing it successfully.”

Both farmers, who are among just a few currently using biodynamics locally, say they hope others will begin using these methods to restore the health of the North Fork’s soil and surface water.

cmiller@timesreview.com

07/15/13 8:00am
07/15/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | One of 12 new weather stations that provide real-time online information to Suffolk farmers.

Researchers with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County are hoping new weather stations will help local farmers better plan pest control applications, thus cutting down on chemical use on farmland.

Through grant funding, the Cornell research group’s agricultural stewardship program has installed a network of 12 weather stations across the East End so growers can better track and predict weather changes that can affect insect development, Cornell officials said.

Each station will take hourly measurements of weather factors like temperature, rainfall, wind direction and the amount of water vapor in the air. Stations will be equipped with Internet access, making the information available to growers and the public through a server at newa.cornell.edu.

Cornell will then integrate weather data with expert scouting in the field, to “predict emerging pests” and see whether pesticide applications are needed, said Rebecca Wiseman, Cornell’s agricultural stewardship coordinator.

When possible, growers can use insect traps and pheromone-based methods to disrupt mating cycles to help cut down on pest populations without using pesticides, Ms. Wiseman said. Using those techniques, she said, “pesticide use can be greatly diminished for certain kinds of pests and there are instances where it can be eliminated.”

Eleven of the 12 RainWise brand weather stations have been placed in North Fork vineyards and orchards, Ms. Wiseman said.

Before Cornell received the $190,000 in funding for the stations, which came from various organizations, only three weather stations were located on the East End, and only one on the North Fork, she said.

“The fact of the matter is, we have so many micro-climates here on the Island, the three sites were inadequate to meet the needs of our agricultural community,” she said.

Gabriella Purita, business manager at One Woman Wines and Vineyards in Southold, said the vineyard received its new weather station in May, and the device has already helped growers there with mold and mildew control.

“If we plan and see an outbreak of a certain pest, mold or mildew annually because of certain weather conditions we’ll know to preventively treat that area,” Ms. Purita said. “We hopefully won’t have to use applications because we’ll know when to use the traps and pheromone cycles when pests are at their most active.”

The better farmers can forecast weather cycles, the more they can control basic farming practices, said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

“It makes decision-making of farming more advanced and more economically prudent,” he said.

Aside from their potential effects on groundwater, chemicals and pesticides are expensive. Farmers do not want to use them unless they are necessary, Mr. Gergela said.

“The costs have gone up astronomically over the past five to 10 years, so it ties to profitability and good business decisions, as well as the science side,” he said.

Funding came from grants awarded by the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the Long Island Community Foundation and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

cmiller@timesreview.com

04/11/13 8:00am
04/11/2013 8:00 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called for the banning of certain pesticides at the DEC’s Draft Long Island Pesticide Pollution Prevention Strategy hearing at Suffolk County Community College in Northampton last Wednesday night.

Environmental advocates, farmers, and elected officials stepped up to the microphone one by one last week, voicing support for or concern about the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft strategy to prevent future pesticide contamination of Long Island’s drinking water supplies.

Close to 100 people attended the hearing at Suffolk County Community College’s Eastern Campus in Riverhead last Wednesday night, April 3.

The new, 122-page proposed strategy calls for a technical review and advisory committee to review water quality data, so it can weigh factors such as human health risks and the availability of effective pesticide alternatives. The committee would provide the DEC with background information needed to support future regulatory action.

[Editorial: Is it time to rethink entire approach on pesticides?]

The draft strategy also calls for a working group of stakeholders to make sure those directly involved in pest management, pesticide use and water quality on Long Island are broadly represented.

Since 1996, 117 different pesticide-related chemicals have been detected in Long Island’s groundwater, according to the DEC.

By 1998 the agency began developing a plan to prevent further degradation of below-ground water supplies, culminating with the release of a draft plan in 2011 that included the possibility of a zero tolerance policy on certain pesticide uses. But the 2011 draft drew great concern from farmers, who said they would not be able to farm successfully under such harsh restrictions.

“The zero tolerance provision upset us greatly,” Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said in an interview about the 2011 proposed plan, which got scrapped. “We objected to it because in the draft document was the notion of zero tolerance. We had to interpret what zero meant. To me, zero means if they found something, it’s banned.”

Taking note of those concerns, in January, the DEC released its newest proposal to prevent future pesticide contamination, calling the new draft a “strategy.”

Environmental advocates at the hearing last week said the proposed strategy is a step back from the original plan proposed in 2011.

Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, said the strategy lacked specific goals for improving water quality over time.

Mr. DeLuca also asked for specific triggers, such as a certain number or level of pesticide detections, that would require the DEC to take regulatory action. He said the strategy also lacks a way to gauge how well it is working.

The new draft strategy “simply calls for more meetings and more planning” with too many “vagaries going forward,” he said.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, asked for a ban on three common pesticides — atrazine, metalaxyl, and imidacloprid — compounds she said are the most commonly found in Long Island’s groundwater.

Ms. Esposito asked the DEC to take responsibility for finding safer alternatives to common pesticides entering groundwater

But representatives of the East End’s agricultural community cautioned against implementing overly restrictive pesticide regulations, saying farmers need pesticides to remain economically viable.

Deborah Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead voiced concern about a pesticides ban saying, “The last measure we use is pesticides.”

She said that before any pesticide is taken off the market alternatives must be identified, adding that the past few years have already been a struggle for Long Island’s farmers.

Ms. Schmitt also said a zero-tolerance policy for pesticides in groundwater “will put us out of business.” Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela agrees.

“Don’t start talking about banning things until the homework is done,” he said.

On the proposed banning of imidacloprid, for example, Mr. Gergela later said in an interview, “You have to be careful what you ask for.

“The alternative is far more toxic,” he said. “It’s product called dylox, and it is not as effective.”

Mr. Gergela also asked the DEC to assess risks presented by pesticides versus their benefit to society, adding that farming on Long Island is a $300 million industry.

“We need to work together,” he said. “We have to balance the issue.”

After the meeting, DEC deputy commissioner Eugene Leff said the agency would “seriously consider” creating water quality goals to ensure water quality changes are addressed over time.

Developing automatic triggers for regulatory action would be more difficult, he added. He believes a one-fits-all standard is not possible since different pesticides are harmful at different levels. The DEC is accepting public comments regarding the draft strategy until April 30. Comments can be submitted through email to: LongIslandStrategy@gw.dec.state.ny.us or by fax to 518-402-9024, or mailed to:

Scott Menrath, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Materials Management, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233.

cmiller@timesreview.com

04/11/13 7:59am
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

As surely as spring brings warmer days and greener fields, there’s no end in sight to the tug of war over the use of pesticides and curtailing their use to reduce their effect on the environment, especially in our drinking water.

It has been thus for decades. The agricultural community has long argued that without pesticides there’s no future for farming here. For all we might wish otherwise, that’s an undisputable fact. Still, traces of agricultural chemicals continue to be detected in groundwater across the East End. For all we might wish otherwise, that’s part of the price of living with and embracing the farming industry.

As we discovered during the Temik scare of the 1970s, Long Island is unlike many other farming regions in that its agricultural soils sit atop sand left when the last glacier melted. Temik was highly effective in controlling the Colorado potato beetle, a rather voracious insect that can quickly strip the vegetation from entire fields. But Temik passed quickly through Long Island’s sandy soils, long before it could break down into less toxic compounds.

Temik was banned years ago, but the issue of pesticide contamination resurfaced earlier this year when the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced its intention to develop a strategy to prevent future pesticide contamination. It must be said that pesticide use is not confined to farm fields. Homeowners endeavoring to maintain their lawns, shrubs and flowers can be a significant part of the equation.

The simplistic approach to keeping pesticides out of our drinking water is to ban specific compounds, but farmers say without first conducting the proper research that’s not a realistic option. As Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela said during last week’s pesticide strategy hearing, “We know that we are a $300 million industry. Without the ability to protect that investment, we can’t farm here.”

She’s usually on the other side of the issue, and during the hearing she called for banning three specific pesticides, but Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said it’s the DEC’s responsibility to find safer alternatives. She makes a good point, and the DEC should be working with farmers and scientists to do just that.

Given the complex nature of the problem and the countless sources of groundwater contamination, we wonder if the DEC is biting off more than it can chew and has, in effect, wasted its time with its 122-page report, which it refers to as a strategy, not a plan. The strategy will prove no more successful than maintaining the status quo. The protection of our water quality is a chronic concern, so let’s make sure we get it right before it’s too late.

03/20/13 5:00pm
03/20/2013 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

More than 100 different pesticide-related chemicals have been detected in Long Island’s groundwater since 1996, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

To prevent future pesticide contamination, the DEC has released a draft version of a strategy, or blueprint of sorts, aimed at protecting Long Island’s waters.

Known as the Draft Long Island Pesticide Pollution Prevention Strategy, its goal is to establish effective pest management, while protecting the Island’s waters.

The DEC will be holding two public meetings April 3 and 4, to provide information on the proposed strategy, as well as give the public an opportunity to comment on it, whether that be support or concerns regarding the proposed strategy.

Comments will be considered and the DEC will revise the draft if necessary, according to its website. The 90-day public comment period runs through April 30.

The proposed strategy will affect almost all pesticide users on Long Island — agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial and institutional. It includes best management practices, water quality protection and enhanced monitoring of groundwater into its pest management efforts.

Meetings are scheduled as follows:

April 3 in Riverhead:

Suffolk County Community College, Eastern Campus

121 Speonk Riverhead Rd.

Riverhead, NY 11901

Availability Session: 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Public Meeting: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

 

April 4 in Bethpage:

Morrelly Homeland Security Center

510 Grumman Road West, Main Conference Room

Bethpage, NY 11714

Availability Session: 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Public Meeting: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Public comments can also be submitted through email to: LongIslandStrategy@gw.dec.state.ny.us or by fax to 518-402-9024 or mailed to:

Scott Menrath

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Division of Materials Management

625 Broadway

Albany, NY 12233-7254

Draft Long Island Pesticide Pollution Prevention Strategy