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Keeping It Clean and Green: Chemical Drift Issues
by Jeff Mollet

Manager's Toolbox

Still, there are some actions that can be taken (and as always, documented) that could help to reduce the liability of an applicator for drift claims.

  1. Have an ongoing training program in place for all employees. It may not be fun to continually review and re-review proper procedures and techniques, but adequate training is a must. I would suggest that a written record of the date, topic and attendees of all such sessions be kept in a separate file. If a claim is made and it can be shown that you have not adequately trained your employees, get your check ready.
  2. Equipment maintenance and upkeep is a must. Thorough, timely and regular maintenance can avoid claims that improper (or non-existent) equipment repair was at least part of the cause of the damage. Again, this must be documented with a maintenance log that identifies the employee, the date and any actions taken or repairs made.
  3. Keep all required business or individual licenses current. Most states regulate the application of agricultural chemicals and require that the applicator keep a log for each job. This log should contain detailed information as to the amount, quantities and formula of the chemical used, the crop to which the application was made, the address or location of the field being sprayed, that temperature and wind direction at the time of the application (not just a general number for that date from a news report later in the evening), and any other comments that are relevant, especially if anything beyond the ordinary occurs.

Chemical drift from agricultural applications has been and will remain a problem for farmers, their neighbors and the environment generally. Even in the best of conditions, it is likely unavoidable. Factors such as wind, humidity and equipment condition and efficiency are only a few of the factors that affect the extent and nature of chemical drift. Understanding these factors and “controlling” them are key to avoiding or minimizing liability for damage to other properties and plants. Add to this the fact that (a) the urbanization of our population makes agriculture a little understood industry and (b) nobody wants to have chemicals used on their food, and you have a general distaste (no pun intended) for those who make their living “by polluting the earth” with chemicals, no matter how necessary to create a safe and ample supply of food.

Problematic for the applicator is that the factors previously mentioned (or others that may arise) generally cannot be controlled in any significant manner. In fact, chemical drift can occur even days after the initial application due to evaporation, rain or wind. As a result, court cases from state to state are confusing at best, rendering decisions that can best be characterized as very fact specific. As one might suspect, it is in general safe to say that the applicator very likely goes into any such case with those who will render a decision having a pre-supposed notion that they did something to kill the neighbors plants via an act that must have been a horrendous toxic spill of some sort. It is only by presenting good evidence of the care taken to minimize anything other than completely accidental damage that an applicator can start to overcome the bias against his business in general.

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