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Farmworker advocates remain concerned with pesticide rule changes

August 5, 2020 GMT

BOISE — Representatives from the Idaho Conservation League and the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils expressed concern Tuesday over pesticide application regulations that are moving from Idaho Department of Agriculture jurisdiction and into Federal Aviation Administration jurisdiction.

The changes come after the House Agriculture Affairs Committee approved the request from the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association in the 2020 legislative session.

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The regulations set to be removed from the Department of Agriculture’s oversight are low flying prohibitions in aerial application of pesticides and pesticide application in hazardous areas.

In the department’s second meeting over the proposed changes on Tuesday, Jonathan Oppenheimer, government relations director at Idaho Conservation League, was concerned with the removal of the hazardous area restrictions from the department’s rules. He said there are no comparable rules around protections in hazardous areas under FAA rules. Elaine Kazakoff, board member on the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, also expressed concern over the lack of direction from the FAA around hazardous area application.

Federal aviation regulations set the minimum safety altitude for aircraft at:

1,000 feet over the highest obstacle in congested areas500 feet above the surface in non-congested areas

However, according to Aero Legal Services, there is no FAA definition of what constitutes a congested area, which is determined on a case-by-case basis.

No FFA representative was available Tuesday to answer questions about how the agency’s low-flying and hazard area regulations were different than the agriculture department’s.

Oppenheimer also expressed concern that many schools and hospitals in Idaho are located near agriculture fields and may not be categorized as a congested area under FAA rules. He identified 20 schools and hospitals that are surrounded by agriculture fields and may be at risk of being exposed to aerial pesticides.

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The Department of Agriculture, based on stakeholder concerns, made two additions to the rules:

One prohibits the application of pesticides that result in drift outside of the target area.The other prohibits pesticide application in sustained wind conditions exceeding 10 mph or in wind conditions exceeding product label directions, whichever is more restrictive.

Stakeholders have until Aug. 11 to provide comment on the pesticide rules. Questions and comments can be emailed to Brian Oakey at brian.oakey@isda.idaho.gov.