Quantcast
Food
Pesticide spray sign on Vesterbrook Farm, which suffered damage from herbicide drift.

Missouri Organic Family Farm Faces Ruin After Herbicide Drift

Herbicide drift has been a major problem last year damaging millions of acres of crops in the U.S.

An organic farmer in Missouri has seen firsthand how destructive herbicide drift can be as it destroys his crops and threatens his livelihood and farm.


Mike Brabo and his wife Carol own Vesterbrook Farm in Clarksville, Missouri, about an hour north of St. Louis near the Mississippi River. The farm has been in Carol's family for nearly a century. The couple and their two children have worked the farm since 2008 after Mike survived thyroid cancer.

At that time Mike gained an appreciation for organic foods but found it difficult to afford them. "It's expensive to buy organic fruits and vegetables at Whole Foods," he said.

Mike and Carol decided to grow their own. It wasn't difficult to convert the farm to organic since no chemicals had been used on the land.

"There had been nothing grown on the farm but grass for 15 years," Mike said.

Mike Brabo and his wife Carol (center) and children Bethany (left) and Josh (right).Vesterbrook Farm

Sell Crops to 150-Member CSA

Over the years, the Brabos have grown their organic farm. A lot of vegetables can be grown on 24 acres, and the Brabos have planted more than 60 including lettuce, spinach, beets, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, peppers, squash and tomatoes, among others. Some vegetables are grown in four high tunnel greenhouses. They also planted an orchard with apple, peach, plum and cherry trees and fruit bushes such as raspberries. They also grow herbs such as sage, parsley and cilantro.

They sell the fruits of their labor to 150 members of their community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Ironically, some of the CSA members are employees of a large, well-known multi-national agribusiness company in St. Louis.

Mike says his customers appreciate getting fresh organic produce. "Some people have a tough time finding organic food. There are not a lot of organic farms in our area."

Vesterbrook Farm uses organic practices but is not certified through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program. Instead, Mike chose Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) as their certifier.

"Their standards meet or exceed the USDA's," he said. "CNG has a much greater emphasis on sustainability with planting areas that bring in wildlife and beneficial insects."

The Brabos have seen growing success with their organic farm and CSA with sales increasing 10 percent per year.

Herbicides Damaged Crops, Loss of $300,000

That is until this year. In June, a conventional farmer neighbor sprayed his soybean field with herbicides. Wind blew the herbicides over the Brabos' land.

This happened despite Mike having signs that say "Organic Farm, No Spray" signs and registering his farm with DriftWatch, a communication tool that enables farmers and pesticide applicators to work together to protect specialty crops using mapping programs.

The damage from the herbicide drift was total. "We found damage across our farm, which is 500 yards wide, including on the far north side of the property," Mike said.

Crops damaged included peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, basil; fruit trees were also damaged. "Everything on the farm, even ornamental trees, was damaged," Mike said.

The herbicides also killed half of the farm's bees, an estimated loss of $12,000. Mike estimates the total loss at $300,000.

Tests revealed that the herbicides responsible for the damage were glufosinate, clethodim and metolachlor.

Their Certified Naturally Grown certification was suspended, and the Brabos must essentially start over to remove the herbicide contamination from their farm. It will take three years at an estimated cost of $1.6 million to remediate the damage and regain CNG certification. According to Mike, they will have to plant cover crops and replenish the soil with beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi.

"Worst Case Scenario is We Lose the Farm"

Mike could grow vegetables and sell them as conventional but he refuses for fear that a customer would become sick because of the herbicide contamination.

"As a cancer survivor I'm not going to be complicit in putting something in the food supply that could make someone sick," he said.

For now, the Brabos are out of business for three years. "We aren't sure what we are going to do," Mike said. "The worst case scenario is we lose the family farm."

The Brabos are working with attorneys to reach a settlement with their neighbor's insurance company.

"We just want to be rightly compensated to grow healthy food for ourselves and repairing the soil and ecosystem so we can grow food for the St. Louis community," Mike said.

While the Brabos' farm wasn't damaged by dicamba, their ruined crops demonstrate the destruction it and other pesticides can cause to small family farms.

"This whole drift issue is so huge. How many farmers and vegetable growers have chemically drifted vegetables?" Mike said.

To help Vesterbrook Farm recover from its devastating losses, go to YouCaring.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, seen here speaking to the press about the Flint water crisis in 2016, will be the highest ranking official to stand trial over the public health disaster. Brett Carlsen / Getty Images

Judge Orders Michigan Health Director to Face Trial Over Flint Water Crisis Deaths

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will be the highest ranking official to go to trial so far as a result of an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Judge David Goggins ruled Monday there was probable cause for Lyon to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder that prosecutors say were due to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that Lyon was aware of a year before he alerted Michigan's governor, Michigan Live reported. Lyons is also charged with misconduct in office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Coal-fired power plant near Becker, Minnesota. Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan' Could Cost More Than 1,000 Lives a Year

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Tuesday its long-anticipated replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new coal pollution rules will increase planet-warming carbon pollution and could cost more than a thousand American lives each year, according to the EPA's own estimates.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler released the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule" today under President Trump's directive. The new plan encourages efficiency improvements at existing coal plants to ensure they operate longer and allows states to weaken, or even eliminate, coal emissions standards. That's a clear difference from former President Obama's plan, which was aimed at phasing out coal and transitioning to cleaner power sources to avoid dangerous climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Two workers in protective gear scrape asbestos tile and mastic from a facility at Naval Base Point Loma in California. NAVFAC / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Why Asbestos Is Still a Major Public Health Threat in the U.S.

Reports surfaced this month that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for asbestos in June, requiring anyone who wanted to start or resume importing or manufacturing the carcinogenic mineral to first receive EPA approval.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Rklfoto / Getty Images

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Wants to End EPA’s Cruel Animal Testing

By Justin Goodman and Nathan Herschler

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress recently pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its "questionable" and "dubious" animal tests. The lawmakers' demand for information on "horrific and inhumane" animal testing at the EPA comes on the heels of a recent Johns Hopkins University study that found that high-tech computer models are more effective than animal tests.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Wikimedia Commons

Strongest, Oldest Arctic Sea Ice Breaks Up for First Time on Record

The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and now the region's thickest and oldest sea ice—also known as "the last ice area"—is breaking up for the first time on record, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The breakage has opened up waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen-solid even in the peak of summer.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Climate Justice Edmonton

These Giant Portraits Will Stand in the Path of Trans Mountain Pipeline

By Andrea Germanos

To put forth a "hopeful vision for the future" that includes bold climate action, a new installation project is to be erected along the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route to harnesses art's ability to be a force for social change and highlight the fossil fuel project's increased threats to indigenous rights and a safe climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
A worker inspects recycled plastic in a plastics factory. Getty Images

The Plastic Waste Crisis Is an Opportunity to Get Serious About Recycling

By Kate O'Neill

A global plastic waste crisis is building, with major implications for health and the environment. Under its so-called "National Sword" policy, China has sharply reduced imports of foreign scrap materials. As a result, piles of plastic waste are building up in ports and recycling facilities across the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Aaron Teasdale

The One Thing Better Than Summer Skiing

By Aaron Teasdale

"There's snow up here, I promise," I assure my son Jonah, as we grunt up a south-facing mountainside in Glacier National Park in July. A mountain goat cocks its head as if to say, "What kind of crazy people hike up bare mountains in ski boots?" He's not the only one to wonder what in the name of Bode Miller we're doing up here with ski gear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!