I get asked this question a lot and I answer “Yes! I spray all the time. Then I tell them what I spray and there is a list (Fish and seaweed emulsion, bone meal, blood meal, compost tea, occasional bacillus subtilis, neem oil mixed with castile soap) which will usually lead into me talking about my farming practices. I know that people are asking if I use pesticides but I intentionally answer the way I do because I know that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides come in many forms (not just spray) and farmers spray many different things including organic fertilizers so the generalized “spray question” bothers me. Some discrete farmers who avoid admitting to using harmful pesticides can get “out of the spray question” and are building their clientel under false pretenses if they are still using pesticides but adding them into the soil, treating the seeds or using other devises. What I would prefer people ask me is, “Do you use any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides on your farm or around your crops? Of course my answer is: “I don’t use any of the prohibited substances under my certification.” Bottom line is communicate and ask specific questions. There are so many things sprayed and just because a farmer is spraying doesn’t mean “it’s bad”.
The certifications are set up for a reason and they hold farmers accountable to the mandated produce standards of that accreditation. Having said that, consumers should continue question how their food is grown, so they can make educated choices based on the level of the varying standards. Furthermore, it is the job of the farmer to understand his or her prescription plan and be able to discuss that with customers. Several organic certifications allow pyrethrum based products which is a broad spectrum pesticide that kills many bugs. People just assume that pesticides are not used in organic practices. This isn’t always true. I personally avoid pyrethrins at all costs and have NOT used one on this farm to date (knock on wood). They are technically not toxic to humans but they kill many bugs and I happen to think that diversity is the key a healthy system so I don’t want to upset that balance by killing them all. I feel the same way about Neem Oil as well and only use it if I really have to as it will kill bee’s too. It should be noted that organic farmers can also use prohibited substances but only on a case by case if they can show reasonable documentation of a problem or deficiency and it requires additional monitoring.
As I have stated prior, a lot of farmers utilize fertilizers and there are varying ways of application including spraying but another big difference between conventional farming and organic or sustainable farming practices in whether the fertilizers are synthetic or organic. A big reason why synthetic fertilizers are banned by organic production standards has to do with the high concentration of chemicals and other elements in them, or their bi-product after application. Most become toxic after they build up in the soil and leech into waterways. I use a lot of bone meal and blood meal in powder form. They are organic fertilizers that are rich in Nitrogen and Phosphorus. They are applied directly into the soil in powder form and turned or mixed. Now I know that some of you are thinking, “Well can’t too much of anything be bad?” My answer is “Yes!” but there is larger room for error. Having said that anytime you add an amendment, fertilizer or element to your soil regardless of whether you are a farmer or a gardener you should use as much information and try to have your soil tested. Blood meal and bone meal are also available in liquid form and can be sprayed. I also use Fish & Seaweed Emulsion which is diluted into water and fed into irrigation through drip lines. Obviously this is yet another fertilizer application done without “spraying”.
Sustainable farmers look at the long term affects of the production and seek to make the soil as healthy, bio-dynamic and natural as possible. If you ask me, the soil comes first, then you get the produce. Creating a healthy diverse soil system is the goal and it takes years of working the soil to get it right. Hope all this wasn’t too overwhelming. I do know that there is a lot of debate amongst the farming community as to how manage. It’s a science and I look at farmers like doctors in that they have to diagnose, treat and manage. I think there are scholastic guidelines but every farmer is going to have a different prescription plan based on their unique goals.