BOISE — After many stakeholder meetings and long Zoom discussions among farmworker advocates, aerial pesticide applicators and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the department presented its final rule changes regarding aerial pesticide application to the Senate Agriculture Affairs committee Tuesday.
The changes include removing regulations that already exist in Federal Aviation Administration rules and adding a wind speed rule and drift rule for aerial application to the agriculture department code.
The regulations set to be removed from the Department of Agriculture’s oversight are low-flying prohibitions and pesticide application in hazardous areas. The department proposed the removals because the FAA has jurisdiction over aerial applicators and it has similar rules about low flying and spraying in hazardous areas.
The hazardous area regulation in state code prohibits applicators from flying over areas such as schools and hospitals. The FAA rules set the minimum safety altitude for aircraft at 1,000 feet over the highest obstacle in congested areas and 500 feet above the surface in non-congested areas. There is no administration definition of what constitutes a congested area, which is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The department low-flying rule did not specify an altitude, but instead prohibited low flying and turning over cities, towns, hospitals, schools and other densely populated areas.
Despite the many discussions over the rule changes, farmworker advocates remain concerned.
Jonathan Oppenheimer, external relations director for the Idaho Conservation League, testified during the committee meeting. He said there has not been anyone from the FAA to testify at any of the stakeholder or legislative meetings. The Idaho Press attended all of the stakeholder meetings about the rule and there has never been any aviation administration members present.
Oppenheimer also told the committee that records requests to the administration have revealed little correspondence about the Department of Agriculture rule changes.
“We feel that deferring to federal staff that were unengaged in the process would be unwise,” he said.
On the other side of the issue, David Lehman, former lobbyist for the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association and now the executive director, said his organization supports the rule removals.
“There is not one other state that regulates aerial application,” Lehman said.
Bob Naerebout, a lobbyist for the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, also voiced support of the rule changes. He said dairy farmers have concerns with pesticide drift getting into feed, but he said he would encourage people with concerns to still contact the Department of Agriculture because it can still assist in complaints and compliance with drift rules.
Brian Oakey, deputy director for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, assured lawmakers Tuesday that even with the removal of the hazard area and low-flying regulations, the department still has a rule that prohibits use of pesticides in a faulty or careless manner.
“That can be enforced by the Department of Ag when we have an incident that involves a violation of code or label,” Oakey said. “We do have means to do our jobs and can be a regulatory body in Idaho, and we have the capability of enforcing the law.”
Based on stakeholder concerns, the Department of Agriculture made two rule additions. 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.
Regulations for what wind speeds are dangerous to spray pesticides are often mentioned on pesticide labels; however, the department decided to include the wind condition rule in case the labels do not have the restriction or the restriction is too relaxed. The FAA does not have rules specifically prohibiting drift, though it does mention in its rules how to prevent drift onto adjacent fields or structures.
The Senate Agriculture Affairs Committee unanimously approved the rule changes. The changes will now go to the House Agriculture Affairs Committee for consideration.