by SUSAN MANN
Southwestern Ontario horticulture and ginseng farmers — who use a product designed to control soil pests and pathogens — will soon be facing inspections by Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change officials.
The ministry’s environmental officers will be hitting farms in the southwest region this spring and summer, including the areas around London, Sarnia, Windsor and Owen Sound, to check if farmers are complying with the requirements brought in two years ago for the use of soil fumigants.
It’s the second year the ministry has conducted inspections related to the product.
The new requirements and inspections were introduced in response to incidents in the Norfolk County area. Nearly four years ago, the gas form of the fumigant was used and the escaped gas affected homeowners living near the fields.
Several homeowners were evacuated from their homes for about a day.
Ministry spokesperson Lindsay Davidson said in an email the label requirements for soil fumigants containing chloropicrin came into effect in September 2014. They include:
- a fumigation management plan,
- mandatory good agricultural practices,
- handler restrictions,
- buffer zones, and
- emergency preparedness.
“These requirements are intended to further limit user exposure and to increase the protection of bystanders and the environment,” Davidson says.
Ministry spokesperson Gary S. Wheeler says, also by by email, that fumigants are used to control soil pests or pathogens, such as insects, nematodes, bacteria, fungi and weeds which can disrupt plant growth and production.
Growers using soil fumigants must follow the requirements outlined in the Ontario Pesticides Act and the product’s label, he notes.
Mike Celetti, the plant pathologist-horticulture crops program lead with the Ontario agriculture ministry, says most fumigants are used to reduce or manage nematodes. They’re used in all kinds of crops, such as tobacco, ginseng, carrots, tomatoes and prior to planting apple orchards.
“It’s a pre-plant treatment,” he explains. “If you’re planting a new orchard, you certainly don’t want to invest millions of dollars into the orchard and have it die on you because you have soil-borne problems.”
Wheeler says the ministry’s environmental officers, who are designated legal provincial officers under the Pesticides Act, will conduct the inspections. They will focus on “specific use patterns and procedures (for soil fumigants), the equipment used by the grower, records, licensing and certification and storage of pesticides.” Officials will also be checking to ensure there’s a buffer zone around the areas where the fumigant is used, along with whether the farm has emergency preparedness and fumigation management plans.
Inspections can vary in length but will average about one to two hours, he notes. There may also be follow-up site visits, depending on the products used.
When ministry inspectors find cases where farmers aren’t complying with the requirements, those will be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In all cases of non-compliance, the ministry follows up to ensure that growers take appropriate actions to achieve compliance,” he says.
Generally the inspections are scheduled in advance and farmers don’t have to do any special preparations unless “specifically requested by ministry staff,” Wheeler says.
During the inspection, the farmer must be present, provide information and accompany the environmental officer on the examination of equipment and storage areas.
Essex County-area tomato grower Tom Keller uses a liquid form of fumigant mixed with water and worked into the soil to a depth of six to eight inches. He hasn’t faced a ministry inspection.
Keller says nematodes are a problem in his area. If growers don’t use the fumigant, they face a 10 to 50 per cent drop in yields.
“It’s not through the whole field, but you don’t know where they (the nematodes) are,” he notes. Keller is growing 100 acres of tomatoes this year on his more than 500-acre farm, along with processing sweet corn and peas, white beans, corn, soybeans and wheat.
Keller says there haven’t been any incidents in the Essex area with the use of the liquid form of the fumigant. However, “instead of exempting the liquid one that we use (from the requirements and inspections), they lumped it in with the gas one.”
Most growers “try and be as careful as they can to be safe with this product (the fumigant),” Keller says. “Most people are aware that they have to diligent with what they’re using it for.” BF