Pesticide applicators are starting to feel pressure from the expansion of organic production across the country. Recent court decisions have landed in favor of organic producers in cases regarding pesticide overspray or drift which taints entire fields of organic crops. While not new, these cases are becoming more common. Most recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, for the first time, ruled that pesticides crossing property lines constituted a trespass and allows the property owner to collect damages.
The case actually started back in the early 90’s when Oluf Johnson and his wife Debra started their organic farm in Stearns County, Minnesota. Since the Johnsons’ neighbors were not organic farmers, the Johnsons posted signs noting the farm was organic and created the required buffer zones to help prevent pesticide contamination. The Johnsons even asked the Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative to be careful when spraying adjacent fields.
Despite the notice and requests, the co-op’s application resulted in overspray and contamination of the Johnson’s crop on 5 occasions between 1998 and 2008. In fact, the co-op was cited 4 times for violating state pesticide laws. As a consequence of the overspray, the Johnsons had to sell the crops at lower conventional-crop prices and had to remove the fields from production for a 3 year period pursuant to federal organic certification rules.
In 2009 the Johnsons filed suit and alleged trespass, nuisance, negligence and battery. They also requested an injunction preventing the co-op from spraying within a half-mile of their farm. The District Court dismissed the suit reasoning Minnesota did not recognize “trespass by particulate matter”. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that “unwanted pesticide drift from a targeted field to an adjacent otherwise organic farming operation can constitute a trespass.” Via David Unze’s St. Cloud Times article.
The decision should actually not come as a shock. Alexandra Klass, a professor of environmental law at the University of Minnesota quoted, the decision “puts [Minnesota] in line with how other jurisdictions have dealt with this.” For more information visit Josephine Marcotty’s in the StarTribune found at this link.