Farmers all over Pennsylvania are looking for safer alternatives in place of harmful pesticides.
By Kyle Brady
In March of 2017, a 10-year old Lancaster boy was celebrating his birthday at his favorite restaurant when he and his little sister ordered apple juice. After taking just one sip, both children started vomiting blood and were immediately rushed to the hospital. It was found that the apple juice they had drank was purchased locally and contained large amounts of methanol. While the source was never confirmed, there is suspicion that the menthol came from the pesticides that the apples were sprayed with.
As the vegan lifestyle has become more prominent in the United States, there has been an increase of attention on pesticides and their use in farming. Pesticides have been used for decades to keep crops healthy for longer allowing for the harvesting, transportation, storage and eventually, consumption.
The argument for pesticides is that it aides all of the previous steps, but some people think that the pesticides are harmful. Not only is their belief that pesticides can cause harm to humans if consumed excessively over an extended period of time, but that it is also harmful to the environment.
A panel was held in late October where farmers from all across Lancaster County were in attendance to discuss their thoughts on the use of pesticides. While the issue of the long-term health of consumers was not a pressing subject, the farmers did express their concern of the environmental and financial burdens that pesticides present.
The term “pesticide” is a blanket-term that encompasses other repellents such as insecticides, herbicides and rodenticides. In this meeting, local farmers agreed that insecticides were not worth the harm they were causing, claiming that there is no guaranteed way to prevent all insects from targeting crops. Also, insecticides can kill those insects whose pollination is vital to the surrounding environment.
Alternative solutions include experimenting with fewer repellents, using high tunnels to protect crops and even something as simple as planting crops in mulch. This method makes it hard for bugs to crawl through and get to the crops.
One problem farmers in Lancaster are facing are the ways that pesticides find ways into water supplies. The pesticides can be transferred through run-off or seeping through the soil into water wells. It is recommended that farmers use soils that are rich and thick so the pesticides can be filtered out.
Pennsylvania is one of a few states that don’t specify standards for the construction of private wells. According to a Pennsylvania State University paper, over 50% of private wells in Pennsylvania are contaminated with pesticides playing a role in that figure.
Lancaster county soils in particular are heavy in metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury. In addition to the run-off from pesticides, this makes Lancaster more susceptible to contaminated water wells. This further increases the importance for local farmers to take the necessary precautions.
In Pennsylvania, it is very common for households to operate off of private water wells. These are buried underground and contain water that is used by the house. There are three different types of wells; dug, driven and drilled. Each are named for the method of which they are put into the ground and for how deep they are placed. They all serve the same purpose, but the deeper the well is placed, the less likely it is to become contaminated. Rainwater can collect bacteria and chemicals so wells should be placed away from where this rainwater will flow.
Even with advancements in technology and science, we have not been able to come up with viable repellents that will keep crops safe as well as the environment surrounding it. Much like the rest of the country, Lancaster County farmers are looking for safe alternatives but have been unable to do so. If pesticides continue to cause problems for farmers and consumers, more resources and funding will be needed to find a more economic and environmentally beneficial substitute.
For more information on pesticides visit:
“About Private Water Wells.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 1 Dec. 2016, www.epa.gov/privatewells/about-private-water-wells.
“Farming in Lancaster County.” Lancaster Farmland Trust, www.lancasterfarmlandtrust.org/heritage/farming-lancaster.html.
Harnish, Anne. “‘Organic Mechanic’ Focuses on Soil, Compost.” Lancaster Farming, 7 Apr. 2017, www.lancasterfarming.com/farm_life/gardening/organic-mechanic-focuses-on-soil-compost/article_8d4495af-a648-51eb-a84f-587672306177.html.
“Lancaster County, PA Environmental Health Statistics.” Health Grove by Graphiq, environmental-health.healthgrove.com/l/2334/Lancaster-County-PA.
“PESTICIDE, CERTIFIED APPLICATORS AND REGISTERED TECHNICIANS.” Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, www.agriculture.pa.gov/Protect/PlantIndustry/PesticideCART/Pages/default.aspx.
“Pesticides.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/index.cfm.
Philip Gruber. “Panelists Aim to Reduce Pesticide Use.” Lancaster Farming, 3 Nov. 2017, www.lancasterfarming.com/farming/soil/panelists-aim-to-reduce-pesticide-use/article_8c4ada8e-bb39-11e7-8a4a-a3c9f223872b.html.
Philip Gruber. “Precautions Can Help Keep Pesticides Out of Runoff.” Lancaster Farming, 13 Jan. 2017, www.lancasterfarming.com/news/main_edition/precautions-can-help-keep-pesticides-out-of-runoff/article_68806756-d43d-11e6-96b2-9f4f1389f7d0.html.
“Soil Survey of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.” United States Department of Agriculture, www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MANUSCRIPTS/pennsylvania/PA071/0/Lancaster.pdf.