Pesticides & the Urban Interface

Pesticide application may concern people living or pursuing activities near farms. Urban development encroaching into agricultural areas has resulted in an increasing number of complaints, which often stem from a lack of understanding about the types of activities that take place on the farm. Many people fear the use of pesticides and their impact.

Pesticides are only one type of complaint that may be directed at farms. Other common complaints involve noise, odour, dust, trespassing, slow moving equipment, wandering livestock, animal welfare and unsightly farmsteads. Most pesticide complaints are about spray drift. Others may be about improper pesticide storage, improper pesticide container disposal, or noise from sprayers.

Some pesticide complaints may also come from neighbours who farm. For example, excessive spray drift onto non-target crops may result in crop injury, pesticide residue violations, or loss of organic certification.

Farms may experience adverse affects as the local population grows. Vandalism, theft of produce or equipment, and trespassing are becoming more common in some areas. Unmanaged pest problems in urban gardens can also be a source of pests or diseases for nearby crops. On the positive side, farms operating in more heavily populated areas have a larger local market to sell their produce to.

The following guidelines should help to resolve or prevent pesticide complaints. Remember that common sense, courtesy and consideration are needed on both sides of the fence.

Reducing Pesticide-Related Conflicts

Communication

  • Get to know your neighbours. Open communication, cooperation and a friendly attitude can go a long way to minimize conflict.
  • Find out if your neighbours have concerns about pesticides before they complain.
  • Make an effort to contact neighbours who have concerns prior to spraying.

Education

  • Inform neighbours about the types of products you spray, the times of the year they are applied, and whether they need to take precautions to avoid exposure. Make sure they know if you spray fertilizers or oils. People typically assume toxic pesticides are being applied every time they see a sprayer. Offer to give them more information on specific pesticides.
  • Tell neighbours about the types of pests and diseases you manage, and show them examples of damage.
  • Give neighbours information on pesticide regulation in Canada. A useful reference is the Pest Management Regulatory Agency's Factsheet:

Notifications

  • Ask whether the neighbours want to be told when you apply certain pesticides. Then tell them in advance - they may choose to be absent for a few hours.
  • Post a sign or notice when you spray indicating what is being sprayed and when it is safe to re-enter the field or block.  Show your neighbours where you post the sign.

Best Management Practices

  • Using accepted and defensible farm practices will help to protect you in any dispute.
  • Develop an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). The BC Agriculture Council EFP program includes an evaluation of pesticide and pest management practices on your farm, and provides an opportunity for you to access funds to help make improvements. The BC Agriculture Councils web site has more information on the EFP program:
  • Practice integrated pest management. Know what pests you are spraying for, and whether pest populations warrant spraying.
  • Avoid applying pesticides on crops adjacent to roads, schools or bus stops when children are present.
  • Abide by provincial and federal legislation when using, transporting, storing and disposing of pesticides.
  • Read the label and use appropriate precautions.
  • Keep accurate spray records. They will be useful if a dispute results in an investigation, and are important for evaluating the effectiveness of your pest management programs.

Develop a Drift Reduction Plan.

  • Write the plan on paper to show your commitment to drift management. Share the plan with concerned neighbours.
  • Identify areas where drift could be a concern. For example, property lines backing onto schools, care facilities, residential buildings, walkways, rental houses within orchards, etc.
  • Adjust, maintain and calibrate your sprayer at least once a year.
  • Apply pesticides when weather conditions minimize the possibility of drift. Early mornings and late evenings generally have better spraying conditions with lower wind speed, lower temperature and higher humidity.
  • Spray when human activity nearby is unlikely. For example, do not spray near a school while children are on the grounds.
  • Spray when the wind is blowing away from sensitive areas.
  • Monitor your spray drift to observe changes in wind direction and speed. Consider using water- sensitive cards to monitor drift.
  • Observe buffer zones to prevent spray drift into sensitive areas. Check the label for buffer zone requirements.
  • In perennial crops, consider the pros and cons of removing some plants where it is difficult to spray under good conditions.
  • When possible, consider using dilute sprays with higher water volumes and larger nozzles to create larger droplets which drift less (this may impact on how the pesticide performs).
  • Use only one side of the sprayer when spraying the outside row.
  • Shut off the sprayer when turning at ends of rows.
  • Establish a fast growing hedge or trees along the edge of a field near a troublesome spot.

Community Planning

  • Object to land zoning changes and new developments around your property that will make it more difficult to spray. Request greater separation from neighbouring buildings, adequate landscaped buffers, and covenants be added to new properties warning of potential nuisance issues for residents living near farming areas.

Negotiation

  • Most complaints can be resolved with communication and negotiation.
  • If a complainant is becoming unreasonable, remain calm and do not escalate the situation.
  • Acknowledge the concern, and attempt to address it with discussion and problem solving.
  • Do: be cooperative, friendly, open, understanding, empathetic, and have a true willingness to find a resolution that works for both sides. A cooperative attitude will help to de-escalate conflict.
  • Dont: be adversarial, angry, defensive, or abusive. An adversarial attitude will usually escalate a conflict. Don't avoid the conflict. It wont likely go away on its own if the fears and concerns are not addressed.

Information for Non-Farming Neighbours 

Understanding Farming

  • Get to know your farming neighbours, and develop an understanding of their day-to-day activities.
  • Remember that the farm is a business. To harvest a profitable crop, it is necessary to control certain pests, weeds and diseases. Many pests and diseases have the potential to completely destroy a crop if left unmanaged.
  • Remember that your food comes from a farm, and that farms contribute to the local economy. The agri-food industry in B.C. employs nearly a quarter million people, and generates billions of dollars in economic activity every year.

Communication

  • If you have a concern or question about a farm practice such as operation of sprayers, discuss the concern directly with the farmer.
  • If you have concerns about certain pesticides, ask for information about them.  Ask to be notified before applications so that you can close windows or take other precautions to prevent exposure.
  • If you are planning special events on your property that may be impacted by farming activities, notify the farmer in advance to discuss potential solutions.

Understanding Pest Control

  • Be aware that not every spray is a toxic pesticide. Many spray applications consist of nutrients and non-toxic compounds such as dormant oil.
  • Pesticides vary in their level of hazard. Many of the more hazardous compounds are no longer used, and newer pesticides are generally much safer. For example, some newer insecticides are soaps; others act as insect growth regulators and affect only certain species of insects.
  • Most farmers are practicing integrated pest management and using a variety of pest control methods including cultural or mechanical controls, resistant varieties, biological controls, and pheromone disruption as well as pesticides.
  • Many farmers monitor for pests so they only use pesticides when they are necessary and most effective.
  • Pesticides are expensive, sometimes costing several hundred dollars a litre. They are not sprayed indiscriminately, but only when necessary.

Regulations and Dispute Resolution 

The provincial Farm Practices Protection Act (FPPA) protects the farmers right to farm in B.C.'s important farming areas (i.e. Agricultural Land Reserve) if they use normal farm practices and comply with legislation listed in the FPPA Act (Waste Management Act, Pesticide Control Act, Health Act and their regulations).

A "normal farm practice" is defined in the act to include an activity "that is conducted by a farm business in a manner consistent with proper and accepted customs and standards as established and followed by similar farm businesses under similar circumstances."

The Act also provides a process to resolve complaints about farming practices, and encourages local governments to support farming in their local plans and bylaws.  Complaints are heard through the British Columbia Farm Industry Review Board. Regional Agrologists with the BC Ministry of Agriculture also informally help resolve complaints.

If you believe that a farmer is spraying without regard to normal safety precautions, you may also register a complaint with the Ministry of Environment, or the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and request an investigation.