URBANA, Ill. – Every year the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) receives approximately 72 complaints of crop damage due to pesticide drift. When drift occurs, it is important to know the basics of the complaint process as well as the available resources.
“Neighborly discussions before pesticides are applied are a good idea so applicators are aware if sensitive plants are growing near the application site,” says Aaron Hager, weed scientist in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. “Before doing anything, both parties should make an effort to discuss the suspected drift incident and rule out other possible causes of the damage. In cases where the cause of the damage remains unclear or where the parties will not work together, a formal complaint may be necessary.”
The IDOA and University of Illinois Extension each have important roles in assisting Illinois citizens in dealing with pesticides. The IDOA administers and enforces laws related to pesticide use and U of I Extension assists to educate and solve problems.
If pesticide drift is suspected, you may send affected plant samples to the U of I Plant Clinic. “Be sure to include as much relevant information as possible,” says Michelle Wiesbrook, an Extension specialist in the Pesticide Safety Education Program.
Because the Plant Clinic does not perform pesticide residue tests, the cause of a symptom cannot be attributed to pesticide drift with 100 percent certainty. However, it is possible for clinic staff and specialists to rule out other possible causes and establish whether pesticide drift is the likely cause.
The IDOA has three roles that impact its handling of pesticide-drift complaints. These roles are (1) education and licensing of applicators and operators via the Pesticide Safety Education Program, (2) investigation of complaints, and (3) enforcement of pesticide laws. The roles of IDOA are determined by laws and statutes passed by the Illinois legislature or the federal government.
“If you choose to file a complaint with IDOA, time is of the essence,” Hager says. “Complaint forms must be received by IDOA within 30 days of the incident or within 30 days of when the damage was first noticed. Complaints filed after that will be kept on record, but no administrative action can be taken.”
The process begins when farmers fill out a pesticide drift complaint form, which can be found at http://go.illinois.edu/complaintform or by calling IDOA’s Bureau of Environmental Programs at 1-800-641-3934 (voice and TDD) or 217-785-2427.
The complaint process
Once a complaint is filed with the department, a field inspector is assigned the case. In most cases, the inspector will interview the complainant and inspect the site. Various types of samples, such as plants, water, or soil, may be collected for analysis at an approved laboratory.
The inspector may also interview applicators in the area, examine pesticide records, and collect weather data in an attempt to determine the nature and cause of the damage. The field investigator will then submit a report to IDOA for review.
Both parties will receive written notification if IDOA finds a violation and takes an enforcement action. Penalties range from advisory or warning letters to monetary penalties of $750 to $10,000, depending on the type and severity of the violation. Penalties are determined through a point system defined in the Illinois Pesticide Act.
Even if a violation of the Illinois Pesticide Act cannot be substantiated, both the complainant and the alleged violator will be notified in writing of the complaint’s status. The department’s role in pesticide misuse incidents is limited to determining whether a violation has occurred, and cannot help complainants recover damages.
“Certainly, it is easiest and best to prevent herbicide drift from occurring in the first place,” Hager says.” Drift can be extremely expensive and often results in poor neighbor relations.”
Additional information for use when handling potential drift injury
A useful resource that includes information and helpful tips on preventing and dealing with the off-target movement of herbicide applications is an online module titled, “Herbicide Tolerant Crop Stewardship”.
“While it was created with producers in mind, it would also be beneficial to homeowners, gardeners, and anyone who grows plants, and it’s free,” Wiesbrook says.