The local farmers have been re-enacting the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor for most of the summer now. Just a few years ago, they would have done it once and been satisfied, but now they want to do it over and over again because of the bug population explosion occasioned by aerial spraying of pesticides (Nature abhors a vacuum). According to the Iowa State University agricultural website, the users of crop dusting services have about a 75 percent chance of losing money because of the cost of the chemicals and aerial application. The site also mentions the actual benefit to crop yield is somewhat disputable and certainly not verifiable.
Even gambling addicts realize a one in four chance of coming out ahead is not particularly advantageous, even if you are making lots of money. But you say, “I am not on the farm escalator of increasing production costs driving the need for greater yields, which in turn incurs greater costs with no fixed return on investment like the utility industry.” And I respond that killing off the creatures that eat the insects you are trying to kill is going to be problematic in the long run.
My dad spent three years in the jungles of the South Pacific getting bombed every day when he was about the age of a college student (college students only get bombed three days a week now). Judging from how much time he spends re-living those years in his mind, he may not be exaggerating. He never fails to react when the yellow planes fly over the house. This is no surprise because he can actually hear the plane with sound pressure levels over 100 dB measured at ground level. Plus a plane flying about 50 feet over your house tends to focus your attention no matter how little is left of it. His movements suggest he spent some time behind an anti-aircraft gun during those war years although it’s hard to believe looking at him now. Good thing he’s too feeble to find a real gun or there might be one less yellow air plane.
The more you investigate the practice of aerial application of pesticides and fungicides, the nastier it appears when stacked-up against the benefits. We should insist the Johnson County Board of Supervisors adopt the ISU recommendation and not allow aerial applications of these chemicals within 750 meters of human habitation to avoid prolonged contamination. If the decision is left to the democratic process, it will be a minority seeking a marginal financial gain opposed to a majority not wishing to have measurable amounts of pesticide and fungicide in their urine.
Keep in mind I was a long-time advocate of generating electrical power with the combustion of coal, despite the fact it releases measurable amounts of heavy metals into the atmosphere that eventually collect in the fatty tissues of mammals. But we have lots of relatively cheap coal and our lifestyle depends on low cost energy, so go ahead and hate me when you develop neurological disorders — it seemed like the right thing at the time.
For years the electrical industry used transformer oil with PCBs added by the vendors as a fire retardant. PCBs were a cheap solution to an electrical hazard even though they mimic dioxins in their effect on humans. The maximum allowable level of PCBs in drinking water is now zero and these compounds make farm chemicals look like Kool-Aid. Just like putting lead in gasoline — marginal gain with enormous environmental consequences.
If you don’t believe these aerial applied chemicals are toxic, ask one of the farmers who contracts these services to take a swallow of the stuff they are spraying. They would respond that spraying it all over Johnson County is not the same as drinking it. They would be correct if they didn’t live and work here. Ask a nuclear power plant worker which is worse, a chronic exposure to radiation or a cumulative exposure to tiny amounts over time. They would tell you that you don’t want to be exposed to any radiation.
Dad is scanning the sky to the south as he swivels his imaginary gun mount. His hearing has improved remarkably this summer and I’d swear there is an uncharacteristic steely glint in his eyes. At least he’s finding some benefit in aerial spraying.
Writers’ Group member David Charles lives and writes in Sharon Center.