Agrochemicals: What to do if your neighbour starts spraying

You are an organic or agroecology farmer gently tending your food crops. You smell something chemical in the air, you hear the tractor over the hill and your heart sinks. Poison! Your neighbour is once again spraying his fields either with Roundup (Glyphosate) or 2,4-D Amine herbicide and you and your crops are at risk. You’ve contacted him before. You’ve explained your situation and still he ignores your pleas, what’s to do?

Our story

In 2013 we became aware that a neighboring  farmer routinely sprayed poison (“chemicals remedies” in the agri jargon) on his crops. It all started on a hot mid-summer morning, when we smelt an acrid smell and heard a tractor in the distance. Poison (2-4 D Amine we later learned) was being applied on the neighboring farm  and the pungent smell we were picking up on was the result of what is commonly referred to as spray drift (off-target contamination), and more specifically, in the case of 2-4 D, herbicide volatisation (meaning evaporation or sublimation of a volatile herbicide, causing it to move downwind and affect other plants). This directly affected our health  (burning sensation in our eyes and lungs), contaminating our soil, crops and water (we harvest rain water for our domestic needs). Every time we are concerned about how this will also affect the grazing of our animals.

At first we tried to engage in a constructive dialogue with the farmer, requesting to be given due notice (as per legal requirements), that weather conditions been effectively taken in consideration (temperature and wind direction) and that a buffer zone be respected by the farmer so as to limit our direct exposure (in our case we established with aerial maps that we and all other small scale farmers growing organic crops close to the large farm, fall within 200 meters of his spraying zone, with the closest households being 50 to 80 meters from the spray zone and a mere 2 meters from a stream). But spraying kept on happening in 2014 and 2015 and that year we decided to lodge a formal complaint.

The investigation was completed and today (as of February 2017) we are waiting for the next steps, as the matter is now still sitting with the criminal magisterial court. We will be updating this post to share the outcome thereof. In the mean time here is what to do if you are also experiencing spray drift and herbicide volatility.

Decide

Experience has shown that standing up for your rights will demand focus, energy, resilience and your time, so do you wish to proceed – particularly as you’ll encounter opposition and make enemies? In our case we believed strongly in our cause, namely, a poison-free environment, and so it was clear-cut: we weren’t going to stand down. We hope you feel the same way.

Garner support

It helps morale if you can enlist like-minded activists – particularly neighbours. In another instance, we were fortunate to have some within our community standing together to help prevent the spraying of 2,4-D Amine herbicide on a field opposite our plot. But we had to wage the battle against the neighboring commercial farmer alone. And like us you might also find that some neighbours fear sticking their necks out, in which case you might find yourself isolated and on your own. But that’s OK because in the end it’s about staying true to what you believe and defending your property and health. On the other hand, you might find that by taking a stand you win friends and support. That happened with us (see: Heritage village to return to its farming roots). So what does one do?

Do your homework

If you decide to go ahead, then you need to be equipped with the facts, so do your homework. Research all aspects of herbicides, insecticides and/or GM foods, including the legislation pertaining to their application. When you confront the farmer or the poison-manufacturers anticipate various forms of defence including ridicule. In this regard, we refer you to an accompanying post: Pesticide drift, the law can protect your homestead and crops.

Prepare your documentation as quickly as possible

Because you have a very brief window of opportunity to act once spraying is suspected or anticipated it’s important to draw up your affidavit as quickly as possible, your affidavit means the farmer in question will be investigated according to rather dated but none the less stringent legal requirements. Your evidence will serve as the basis for an official complaint and assist in court. It must therefore be comprehensive and accurate, and should, inter alia, include:

  • GPS coordinates and screen captures obtainable via Google maps and a description of the locale that points out the proximity of your and your neighbours’ farming operations
  • a description of the occurrence including times, date and official weather conditions: temperature, dew point, wind direction and strength. You will be able to get this information from Weather SA (salesct@weathersa.co.za), who will send you (at a cost) the required information from the closest weather station.
  • a medical report from your doctor, should you happen to experience any physical symptoms from breathing in the poison. Such a report will go a long way in supporting your case
  • any other supporting evidence in the form of testimonies, photographs (ideally the airplane/tractor applying the remedies, shots of damaged crops) and/or results of water analysis
  • a synopsis of the research highlighting the dangers of the herbicide or insecticide you suspected (but which you are legally entitled to know so ask the person spraying what is being sprayed)
Take samples when it is suspected that water had been contaminated by herbicide spray drift
Take samples when it is suspected that water had been contaminated by herbicide spray drift

Act swiftly

Contact the Department of Agriculture – see below (or its equivalent if you are not living in South Africa). Inform the person concerned that you wish to lodge a complaint and that, once compiled, you will be mailing him or her a copy of your affidavit which you will also be lodging with the local police.

Once your affidavit has been completed (we worked through the night with our first one) deliver it to your local police station.

Mail a copy to the Department of Agriculture (or its equivalent if you’re not living in South Africa) with a covering letter explaining you wish to lodge a complaint within the context of the attached affidavit.

Keep tabs on the process

Please use the feedback window below if you would like to share your experiences and/or require any further information. We are also available on a consultancy basis to advise from an agroecology perspective.

If in South Africa, the person you need to contact to report herbicide drift or volatilization is:

Melanie Israel
Control Agriculture Legislation Inspector
Directorate: Agriculture Inputs Control – Act 36/1947
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Omni Building
1st Floor, Aliwal Street
Bloemfontein

Email: MelanieR@daff.gov.za
Tel: 051 4092628
Fax: 051 4092651
Web: www.daff.gov.za