ROCHELLE, Ill. — Applying farm chemicals, from fungicides to
herbicides to pesticides, doesn’t require formal attire.
But there is one ensemble that Bob Magee would prefer not to
see — and would prefer that the consuming public not see farmers wearing as they
apply farm chemicals to the North American portion of the world’s food supply.
“What’s he wearing here? What’s he dressed in?” Magee, the
regional stewardship manager for the North American region for DuPont Crop
Protection, asked an audience of DuPont Crop Protection and Pioneer Hybrid
representatives along with a group of area farmers.
Magee spoke at a field tour at DuPont’s Midwest Research
Farm near Rochelle.
“He’s wearing a Tyvek suit, some sort of vinyl or plastic
suit, he’s got a face shield, he’s got the headgear,” Magee said of the figure
in the drawing, who also was spraying with a backpack tank.
Wearing a white head-to-toe hazardous materials jumpsuit as
one treats a field is not the message Magee wants to send the casual passer-by —
who could be on their way to a grocery store.
“This is not really the image we want to be sending about
agriculture because 90 percent of the products out there don’t require this,” he
Magee spoke on stewardship and talked about all the elements
that make up that term, from choosing proper gloves to proper disposal of
As the concern from the public over where their food comes
from and how it is produced has increased, the importance of proper stewardship
has grown along with it, Magee said.
“The reason it becomes more and more important about doing
those small things right is because we’re increasingly visible to society at
large. They are taking an interest in how their food is produced, not just an
interest to the point of making sure it’s safe and (U.S. Department of
Agriculture) inspections and all of that, but an interest in what products are
used on it, what fertilizers are used on it, is it being produced in what they
consider a sustainable way?” he said.
While most consumers don’t want to spend the time to learn
exactly about how farmers do their jobs on a daily basis, Magee noted they are
willing to take the time to lobby for increased regulations.
“With seven billion — nine billion by 2040 — people in the
world, how many of those do you think really understand how you do your jobs on
a daily basis, what role you play in the food supply? Second, how many of them
care to learn?” he said. “The answer is not very many. But they are willing to
stick around and talk about regulations and asking us to prove that we do things
Magee said that showing the consuming public that various
farm practices are not just responsible, but socially acceptable has become a
requirement for farmers.
“As much as we may rankle at the thought of someone looking
over our shoulder and saying is what you’re doing socially acceptable, it is a
fact of what we are going to have to deal with going forward,” he said.
The practices that make up responsible stewardship include
those that offer safety and health benefits to the farmer. Far from the
spaceman-like Tyvek suit, Magee said that most product applications require
items to be found in any farmer’s wardrobe.
“Long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes and socks and gloves,
not Tyvek suits. Most of you, dressed as you are, with long-sleeved shirts and
gloves, are perfectly fine to spray 90 percent of the products out there, but
it’s important that you wear them,” he said.
Glove selection also is important, and that can be solved by
reading and following the chemical label instructions.
“Looking at the label, when you sit down in the fall to plan
your next year, you know the products you’re going to be using. We always say
read the label. I’m going to ask you to read one section of the label
especially. I want you to read the ‘directions for use,’ but read those worker
protection standards. Make sure you have personal protective equipment for
yourself and your employees to apply these products,” Magee said.
Magee, speaking with the hint of a Texas accent, used a
well-known piece of apparel from his state to talk about how farmers also can
“Being from Texas, everybody talks about the big,
wide-brimmed hats that we wear. We don’t wear them because they’re fashionable —
although they do look pretty cool. They do what? They protect from the sun,” he
Magee noted that he fell into the practice of wearing his
favorite cap everywhere. He said in doing that, he was concentrating his
exposure to everything the cap had absorbed.
He said instead of a cap, one option is a cap with a flap
that covers the neck and ears, reminiscent of those worn by French Legionnaires.
“That will protect your ears, neck, shoulders,” he said.
The caps with the covering flap also have another benefit
for those applying chemicals.
“It’s not extremely fashionable, so I know you won’t be
wearing it out to the bars or restaurants. That will probably stay in the truck
and be used the next time you spray,” Magee said.