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Organic Farm Prevails Against Pesticide Spraying Company

Landmark ruling sends a clear message to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) that pesticides that evaporate and move to non-target property with wind or fog need to be strictly regulated to prevent future property damage. Judge awards damages in the sum of $1 million.

Santa Cruz, CA –A Santa Cruz County jury has found that the unintended contamination of organic crops caused by pesticides evaporating after application violated the rights of the organic crop grower. The ruling is the result of a case filed in May 2007 by Jacobs Farm / Del Cabo (Jacobs Farm) against pesticide application company Western Farm Service, Inc. The lawsuit claimed that Western Farm Service sprayed the toxic pesticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon and dimethoate on crops near Jacobs (organic) Farm, and that those chemicals contaminated their dill, sage, and rosemary.

Jacobs Farm follows strict guidelines outlined for farms that carry the organic label, which means it never uses toxic pesticides like organophosphates. Although the chemicals in question are legally used and closely regulated on some crops intended for human consumption, they are not permitted on culinary herbs or any organic crops.  Even the trace presence of the pesticides made it impossible for Jacobs Farm to sell significant portions of its 2006 and 2007 harvests from its farm at Wilder Ranch State Park.

Jacobs Farm sought injunctive relief to stop Western Farm Service from spraying pesticide chemicals that volatilize and contaminate crops at Wilder Ranch State Park, where Jacobs Farm leases 120 acres. Jacobs Farm also sought compensation for losses that resulted from pesticide contamination. The jury’s finding for the plaintiff will help protect Jacobs Farm from future contamination from organophosphate pesticides. The jury found that Jacobs Farm was damaged in the sum of $1 million, and Judge Robert Atack ordered judgment in that amount against Western Farm Service.

The court ruled that pesticide applications by Western Farm Service resulted in trespass of the pesticides onto Jacobs Farm and were legally determined to be a nuisance depriving Jacobs Farm of the right to use and enjoy the land, caused by negligence on the part of Western Farm Services.  The landmark ruling sends a clear message to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) that pesticides that evaporate and move to non-target property with wind or fog need to be strictly regulated to prevent future property damage. Neither DPR nor US EPA specifically regulate this type of pesticide drift, although California regulations clearly prohibit off-site airborne pesticide movement that causes crop damage.

“With growing public concern about food safety and the use of pesticides on food, the world has changed for conventional and organic farmers,” said Larry Jacobs, president of Jacobs Farm / Del Cabo. “Growing practices that do not rely on toxic chemicals already exist. We need to implement these approaches and work on expanding the toolbox so that farmers have more non-toxic options for crop production.”

The farm first discovered trace residues of chlorpyrifos and diazinon in October 2006.  Staff and management responded quickly by stopping harvest of affected crops.  Jacobs Farm management also contacted the County Agriculture Commissioner and DPR, requesting that they intervene to prevent continued drift of these pesticides.  Jacobs Farm also notified Western Farm Service of the problem. When initial outreach to regulators and the pesticide applicator proved fruitless, Jacobs Farm brought suit against Western Farm Service.

“The scientific community’s growing knowledge of how these chemicals move in the environment after application was not considered by pesticide applicators or government regulators,” continued Jacobs. “Regulations prohibiting the continued application of pesticides that damage crops on other farms are in place.  But until now, these prohibitions did not apply to damage from pesticides when they evaporate after they are applied.”

With this ruling, Jacobs Farm will be able to continue farming at Wilder Ranch State Park and plans to invest time and resources into developing methods for producing organic Brussels sprouts on a commercial scale, which would help neighboring farms to continue to produce their crop without the health or liability risks associated with the use of organophosphates.

“Like all organic farmers, Jacobs Farm deserves the right to do its work free from pesticide contamination,” said plaintiff’s attorney Austin Comstock.  “We believe this attentive jury sent the right message to the regulatory agencies and the chemical industry to re-examine the use of these post-World War II pesticides.”

Since October 2006, Jacobs Farm has tested each block of crops on Wilder Ranch before harvesting, and it has not sold any crops that tested positive for organophosphates insecticides.   

For more information about organic farming in California and how this case affects farming practices in general, contact Chuck Benbrook (541) 828-7918 at the Organic Center or Bob Scowcroft (831) 426-6606 at the Organic Farming Research Foundation. To read a letter sent from EPA scientists to 2006 EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson regarding the dangers of organophosphates, see http://www.peer.org/docs/epa/06_25_5_union_ltr.pdf .

About Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo

Located on the California coast south of San Francisco, Jacobs Farm, founded in 1980, grows an extensive line of certified organic culinary herbs and edible flowers. In 1986, the Del Cabo project was founded with a unique vision for social change. Through the teaching of organic growing practices and by providing funding, management and organizational skills, Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo ensures the best market return for the growers of Del Cabo, a cooperative of small family farms in Baja California. The Del Cabo label features basil, a unique assortment of cherry tomatoes and other certified organic produce. Jacobs Farm has four farms in the Northern California growing region and combines its production with that of Del Cabo’s, for year round availability.

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