The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
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.
"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.
- EPA Rule Change Would Expose Teenagers to Highly Toxic ... ›
- 5 Ways This Company Misinforms Consumers About Oil Wastewater ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective measures we can take in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, millions of Americans in some of the most vulnerable communities face the prospect of having their water shut off during the lockdowns, according to The Guardian.
Aerial photos of the Sierra Nevada — the long mountain range stretching down the spine of California — showed rust-colored swathes following the state's record-breaking five-year drought that ended in 2016. The 100 million dead trees were one of the most visible examples of the ecological toll the drought had wrought.
Now, a few years later, we're starting to learn about how smaller, less noticeable species were affected.
Natthawat / Moment / Getty Images
Disinfectants and cleaners claiming to sanitize against the novel coronavirus have started to flood the market, raising concerns for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which threatened legal recourse against retailers selling unregistered products, according to The New York Times.
The global coronavirus pandemic has thrown our daily routine into disarray. Billions are housebound, social contact is off-limits and an invisible virus makes up look at the outside world with suspicion. No surprise, then, that sustainability and the climate movement aren't exactly a priority for many these days.
By Molly Matthews Multedo
Livestock farming contributes to global warming, so eating less meat can be better for the climate.