August 2, 2010 in City

Farmers link losses to herbicide

They say tainted compost, manure damaged crops
Associated Press

BELLINGHAM – Organic farmers in Whatcom County say that herbicide contamination in the manure and compost they obtain from non-organic farms is causing severe crop damage.

Farmers are blaming the herbicide aminopyralid, the Bellingham Herald said. The farmers say cows ingest the herbicide through grass or silage tainted with it. The herbicide passes through the cows’ digestive system unchanged.

Farmer Kirk Hayes said the herbicide caused a loss of about $40,000 in the last two months from crop damage.

“It’s killed off most of our potato crop, our salad crops,” said Hayes, who sells to local co-ops.

Aminopyralid was approved for use in the U.S. in 2005. It’s produced by Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. Farmers use it for weed control.

Clayton Burrows, director of the nonprofit Growing Washington, said soil tests this year convinced him that the herbicide is linked to crop damage. The nonprofit operates Alm Hill Gardens and other organic farms in the area, and he estimates losses in the hundreds of thousands.

The herbicide is not believed to pose a threat to humans or animals.

The contamination also poses a problem for dairies, which need places to get rid of cow manure. Many ship the manure to organic farms.

“There’s a lot of dairy waste that needs to get off of dairy farms,” said Colleen Burrows, integrated pest management coordinator at the Washington State University Whatcom County Extension office. “We need to have a place where that excess fertilizer … can go.”

George Boggs, executive director of the Whatcom Conservation District, said the contamination was almost certainly a mistake, rather than an intentional violation of the rules.

Dow spokesman Garry Hamlin said the company has not confirmed aminopyralid caused damage in Whatcom County, but he said the herbicide has caused similar problems elsewhere in the country.

A similar herbicide, clopyralid, caused problems in the Spokane area in 2001 when tons of compost at the regional composting facility were found to be tainted with the chemical, marketed by Dow AgroSciences under the name Confront. The chemical, used commercially to control clover and dandelions in lawns and golf courses, was also found to kill food plants, such as tomatoes, according to news reports.

© Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email