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June 30, 2022

Pilot program weighs notification of pesticide use

WATSONVILLE—A new pilot program to inform residents of hazardous pesticide applications at area farmlands, under the umbrella of the Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, will go into motion in August. 

The program was outlined by Agricultural Commissioner Juan Hidalgo at a community meeting at the Pajaro Village Club House Tuesday.

“This is one of four pilots in the state, and my office is collaborating with the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation who will ultimately be in charge of developing a statewide modification program,” Hidalgo said. “This will serve as a first step on how to get input from the community on information people are going to receive and how they get that information about pesticide use.”

The five-month state program, which varies in scope in various counties, is designed to inform both residents and schools of the use of fumigants typically used in the summer and late fall on raspberry and strawberry crops.  

Hidalgo informed the 15 people attending the meeting of the $10 million General Fund money that will be used to fund a statewide application notification with a goal to “provide transparent and equitable access to information about pesticide applications.”

The pilot program is being conducted in Ventura, Stanislaus, Riverside and Santa Cruz counties.

“Members from three senior communities, Pajaro Village, Bay Village and Pajaro Vista, came together to kick off the State of California’s Pilot Pesticide Notification Program,” said Pajaro Village resident Judi Lazenby. “The state has chosen four counties as test cases for what is needed to develop a system of advance notification of the intent to use pesticides near residences so residents may prepare if needed. Best methods developed over the life of the Pilot Program will be incorporated into the final state-wide notification program.”

Bay Village resident Woody Rehanek noted that notices of intent to apply the three hazardous fumigant gasses—chloropicrin, Telone, and metam potassium—will be publicly posted on the Santa Cruz County Ag Commissioner website. 

“This is a positive development,” he said. “We’ve been insisting for years that we have a right to know in advance before hazardous pesticides are applied. Advance notice will enable residents to take common sense precautions like closing windows.”

The pilot program will include the Watsonville senior communities Pajaro Village, Pajaro Vista and Bay Village and a mile swath of land that surrounds those homes. That area was chosen due to the proximity to agricultural fields and the potential use of certain restricted pesticides. The chief goal is to provide a 36-hour notification ahead of pesticide application for field soil fumigant pesticides that, Hidalgo said. Notifications will include agricultural fields within one mile of the pilot community where such pesticides are used. Those living in the pilot communities can receive text or email notices. 

“It was helpful to be reminded of all the ag commissioner’s office has to do,” said Bay Village resident Kathleen Kirkpatrick. “The slow roll-out of the pilot project, and incomplete information offered, however, is not unlike what’s happening with pilots in the other three counties around the state. All are in communities where residents were vocal in asking for notification, and all are very limited in size and scope. PR for this event was minimal, just one of the three senior neighborhood associations, even though they all border the fields. Pointed questions were asked, and suggestions made, by neighbors I’ve never met, so obviously, concerns are there.”

Initially slated to start in July, the program has been pushed up to August and will run through November.

Further public meetings are being scheduled with a statewide implementation expected to start by 2024.

Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office can be reached at 763-8080 or online at agdept.com.

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