Quantcast

Missouri Organic Family Farm Faces Ruin After Herbicide Drift

Food
Pesticide spray sign on Vesterbrook Farm, which suffered damage from 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

Kissing bug. Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15 in Paris, France. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Read More Show Less
An artist's impression of NASA's InSight lander on Mars. NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Scientists have likely detected a so-called marsquake — an earthquake on Mars — for the first time, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Hero Images / Getty Images

Across the political aisle, a majority of American parents support teaching climate change in schools even though most teachers currently do not.

Read More Show Less
Priit Siimon / flickr / cc

By Andrea Germanos

Lawyer and visionary thinker Polly Higgins, who campaigned for ecocide to be internationally recognized as a crime on par with genocide and war crimes, died Sunday at the age of 50.

She had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer last month and given just weeks to live.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

An E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef has spread to 10 states and infected at least 156 people, CNN reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less