Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
After holding its July meeting at MOFGA, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control visited Village Farm in Freedom, a MOFGA-certified organic operation, to learn about our diversified farms. Shown here are (L to R) Mark Randlett (Attorney General’s office), John Jemison and Carol Eckert (BPC members), Mary Tomlinson, Raymond Connors and Henry Jennings (BPC staff), Richard Stevenson (BPC member) and Prentice Grassi of Village Farm. Photo by Katy Green.

Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) held its July meeting at MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center in Unity, a first.  The board conducted its regular business in the morning and then, in the afternoon, toured MOFGA’s grounds and MOFGA certified organic Village Farm in Freedom. We received some positive feedback from the board in our effort to reach common ground at the education center, and we had a delicious lunch. 

The discussion at that July meeting, and at others recently, addressed the threat of arboviral diseases. After months of discussions with the BPC about its rulemaking to allow for widespread pesticide spraying in the event of a public health emergency, we believed that MOFGA had gained some traction regarding exclusion zones. MOFGA’s position is that anybody should be able to “opt out” of having his or her property sprayed for any reason, should the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) feel a need exists to spray pesticides to control the spread of such diseases as West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). During initial board discussions, MOFGA believed that certified organic farms would be exempted from being sprayed without landowner permission – in addition to such areas as public water supplies, fish hatcheries and endangered species habitat.  But the board backtracked on this commitment in September and added a caveat that towns need not adhere to the exemptions if the “Maine CDC and/or the Department determine that exclusion of certain areas would unreasonably reduce the efficacy of the control program, creating a risk to human life.” This phrase allows for spraying regardless of exemptions and is particularly troublesome for farmers near urban areas. 
In an effort to maintain protections for organic farms, Dave Colson, MOFGA’s agricultural services director, asked the BPC to work with farmers to develop best management practices that could be used on farm property to control mosquitoes, which are the vectors of the diseases of concern. If farmers could document that they’ve done what they can to control mosquitoes on their property, then the property could be exempted from government-sponsored spray programs. The board thought this was not reasonable and reiterated its position that spraying will occur only when the threat level is high, and in that case all options should be on the table. Despite several mosquito pools and some animals testing positive for EEE and WNV this year, Maine had no confirmed human cases of these diseases when we went to press – and human cases would be the trigger for spraying.

Variance Requests

The board granted Boyle Associates of Gorham a variance request to control Phragmites at Jordan Park Marsh in Old Orchard Beach. Phragmites is an invasive plant that can quickly create a monoculture and decrease local biodiversity. In this case a variance was necessary because the applicator plans to use pesticides within 25 feet of standing water. The active ingredients of the pesticides to be used in this control are glyphosate and imazapyr, both broad-spectrum products.

Consent Agreements

At its July meeting the board unanimously approved a consent agreement and $500 fine with Sea Urchin Cottage of York. When guests of this rental cottage discovered bed bugs during their stay, they notified the manager, who then asked the guests to leave for a period of time and sprayed the beds, walls and floors of the cottage with a pesticide, and deployed a fogger to fumigate the entire area. The manager invited the guests to return to the cottage that same day. The customers found that bed bugs were still present and departed for good. The manager had no commercial applicator license, and the board was unclear whether pesticide labels were followed. 

The Board reached a $15,000 consent agreement with Northeast Agricultural Sales Inc. of Detroit, Maine, for violations during the 2012 growing season. Northeast Agricultural Sales was found to be operating a pesticide storage facility in Connor Township, in Aroostook County, that did not meet required standards of storage facilities. Businesses that operate pesticide storage facilities must meet various building requirements, many dealing with safety, including signage, emergency preparedness, and setbacks from residential areas, among others. Northeast Agricultural Sales violated several such requirements. The company does operate two facilities that are in compliance with board rules, but was found to have operated an out-of-compliance facility in the past, which factored into the board’s decision regarding the amount of the fine.

In September the board accepted a consent agreement with Wellness Connection of Maine of Augusta for several violations related to cultivating medical marijuana at sites in Auburn and Thomaston. The board documented numerous violations of state law regarding pesticide applications to the plants. Some pesticides used were not registered for use in Maine, and none listed marijuana on the label – a requirement to use a pesticide on a crop. To date no federally registered pesticides include marijuana on the label. Also, existing state law required that no pesticides be used on medical marijuana plants. Given the number of violations in this case, an $18,000 fine was levied. The board discussed lowering the fine, with two members ultimately voting against the high amount.

To address the issue that no pesticides could be used on medical marijuana in Maine, Senator Tom Saviello (R-Wilton) sponsored “An Act to Maintain Access to Safe Medical Marijuana,” which became law in June 2013. This act directs the BPC to list minimum risk pesticides that are exempt from FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) regulation that can be used on medical marijuana in the state. Wellness Connection of Maine has begun to work with the board on this issue.

– Katy Green