Accusations traded after new pest forces pesticide changes
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A controversy over pesticide damage to blueberries in Oregon's Willamette Valley may be linked to farmers' ongoing battle with the spotted wing drosophila.
Farmers have been forced to change their practices to combat the exotic fruit fly, potentially leading to damage from chemicals that haven't caused problems in the past.
According to a legal complaint, a blueberry growing company has accused pesticide suppliers and an aerial applicator of causing roughly $1 million in damage to a blueberry crop last year with a mixture of insecticide, fungicide and surfactant.
The lawsuit was filed by the pesticide suppliers, Crop Production Services and Loveland Products, which operate out of Colorado.
The companies have asked a federal judge in Oregon to declare that they're not liable for damage to blueberry fields owned by Pan-American Berry Growers, based in Salem, Ore.
The complaint blames the crop damage on the farm or the aerial applicator, Industrial Aviation Services of Salem.
In June 2010, the berry farm asked pesticide retailer Crop Production Services to supply it with Malathion 8 Aquamul, an insecticide manufactured by Loveland Products.
The complaint alleges that an "over-concentration of the malathion and other ingredients prior to spraying" and other deficiencies in application were responsible for damage to the blueberries.
Since then, Pan-American has threatened the suppliers with litigation, prompting them to launch a legal action on their own to "clear their names (and products) from any wrongdoing," the complaint said.
Steve Erickson, CEO of Pan-American, said the lawsuit is very recent and he must speak with his attorneys before discussing any details.
"We're at a place we just can't comment on it yet," he said.
Jerry Harchenko, founder of Industrial Aviation Services, said he couldn't say much because litigation was pending, but said he believes the damage resulted from the farm's decision to mix malathion with Pristine, a fungicide brand.
Joe DeFrancesco, a professor at Oregon State University, said he has tested Pristine on blueberries and has not seen any damage from the chemical.
Malathion also hasn't caused damage to the fruit, as long as it's water-based, he said. Oil-based malathion can causing spotting, however.
Though DeFrancesco said he doesn't know what happened in this particular case, he recommended exercising a great deal of care with mixing different chemicals.
When two substances are mixed together, it's possible for one chemical to coagulate and then be distributed unevenly, he said. "It can be too concentrated at the end (of the application) and not enough at the beginning."
Farmers should always test any new tank mix on a corner of their field to ensure it doesn't cause damage, DeFrancesco said.
The appearance of the spotted wing drosophila has prompted a change in pesticide application patterns in recent years, he said.
Before then, DeFrancesco said he had not heard about complaints of crop damage from such insecticides and fungicides.
The insect's life cycle requires farmers to spray fields later in the year, when fruit is approaching ripeness, he said.
Such applications necessitate the use of aerial spraying, since farmers typically wouldn't be able to apply pesticides with field machinery so late in the year, DeFrancesco said. "Driving down the rows is really hard without knocking off the fruit."