Alleged Pesticide Spraying of organic farm in Fallon highlights the differences between organic and conventional agriculture

Early in the morning of August 31st, 2020, as Salisha Odum owner/operator of Salisha’s Delicious Organic Produce, readied her daughter for online school, they both responded immediately to the sound of a plane flying close, at low altitude, to their house and fields. 

The plane flew back and forth several times over the course of an hour, and by the third pass, Salisha said the unknown chemicals settled on the land.  

“That’s when I smelled the chemicals. And then I kind of got sick and dizzy and you know, wasn’t feeling good at that time either … we were out taking videos … because what had happened in the past … we wanted to get some footage if we could,” Odum said. 

A screen shot from a video shot at Salisha’s Delicious Organic Produce in Fallon, NV on August 21, 2020 – photo: Salisha Odum

Salisha’s photo records show a plane she traced back to Frey Spray LLC.   

The Ally contacted Frey Spray owner Jerry Frey. He denied the allegation. 

“We weren’t flying over her house and we weren’t spraying over her house. Her field was a long ways away and no one else complained next door,” Frey said in a phone interview.

Frey Spray LLC 

Jerry Frey and Frey Spray are busy, with upwards of seven farm contracts a day, covering 600 acres on average, flying every day during the growing season. 

They also spray 11,000 acres for the Churchill County Mosquito, Vector, and Noxious Weed Abatement District. The yearly contract for combatting mosquitos nears $100,000 annually. 

Jerry is on the frontline of combatting vector-borne illness like malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus. If Zika virus were to arrive in Nevada, Jerry would probably be among the first to know.     

Records obtained through the Nevada Department of Agriculture show that the Frey plane was spraying two pesticides on August 31: Fastac CS Insecticide and Yuma 4E Insecticide. Fastac CS is a class 3A insecticide, meaning in part that it is a pyrethroid.  

As well as the effects suffered by Salisha, in more recent studies (by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), this class of insecticides are shown to be possibly carcinogenic at higher levels of exposure. And the Yuma 4E in the class 1B, comes with warnings on its label:  

“Harmful If Absorbed Through Skin. Causes Moderate Eye Irritation … Do not apply this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift. Only protected handlers may be in the area during application.”  

Frey Spray works as far afield as Battle Mountain, Minden/Gardnerville, Yerrington, Winnemucca, and Lovelock.   

I asked Jerry Frey about sprays he was using on that day Salisha’s Delicious Organic Produce farm was allegedly sprayed: “Yeah…that would take a long time to do (to describe) … We use a horrible variety of that … we go with whatever the EPA approves and calls for.”    

How many agents does Frey use?

“Probably close to 100. We try to keep it confined to just a few and that’s about as few as we can get; we could enlarge it and go to 200.”   

We asked if Jerry had any concerns about working so closely with all of these chemicals.

“They’ve eliminated a lot of the caustic chemicals — we just have to spray more often now, because they just left very weak products on the market. So everyone just has to spray more often. There never used to be this much spraying . . . So it’s just a matter of who controls the lawmaking, how far they can think ahead.”   

Jerry addresses permethrins (pesticides naturally derived from chrysanthemums) and pyrethroids (the chemically derived pesticides used in industrial agriculture). 

“Before Christ they discovered that certain extract other chrysanthemum plants killed worms real good, killed a lot of bugs real good. So of course we’re in the day and age we are now we reverse engineer it and we manufacture it by the gallon, thousands of gallons and a little bit does a lot.”   

“And if you’re sitting on your kitchen table in the gallon jug of this falls over and starts glugging out … It could run onto a baby, a brand new born baby and not harm it at all. The salt shaker full of salt is more toxic than what is in that jug when we lean on those products a lot. They’re called pyrethroids. And permethrins. The pyrethroids are the reverse-engineered. We’ve been doing it for years … It’s just been a wonderful product. And they took a lot of nasty products off the market…the press made them sound more nasty than they were but we don’t care. So [the press has] a job to do. Alarms to ring anyway.”


Salisha’s Delicious Organic Produce and the Challenges faced by Organic Farmers

Churchill County is a leading agricultural region in the state and home to 672 farms and ranches. Nearly $200 million in agricultural products are sold a year. Sixty-three percent of the farms are smaller than 49 acres. 

Salisha is/was one of two certified organic farmers in the county at the time of press and is literally surrounded by industrial operations that hulk in size compared to the scale of her organic farm. 

According to the USDA, 4 percent of all food sales in the nation are organic. 

To achieve United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification, farmers must pass regular tests through the course of three years, showing their soil has no herbicide or pesticide residues. Farmers seeking organic certification have to keep their farms, records and practices open to examining inspectors throughout the entire course of the three-year process.    

Organic crop and production practices are based on: soil building through composting; use of organic non-genetically modified seeds; crop rotation to keep soil biomes healthy and diverse (as well as to help mitigate pests); pest management relying on the PAMS (prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression) strategy, which is achieved through natural means only, except for a small list of USDA-approved synthetic pesticides.     

According to the USDA, organic production is achieved through a combination of practices which “promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity … [while] avoiding use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.”    

All of this with the aim to sustain and regenerate the very systems that raise nutritious wholesome food.   

Conventional farming, also known as industrial agriculture, became more popular and widely practiced after WWII, largely in efforts to drive food yields and production up. 

Synthetic chemical insecticides and pesticides are permitted and regulated through the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines. Genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge are permissible in the practices of conventional farming.    

Monocropping is also part of the industrial system, allowing for huge yields and productions of produce for human consumption, as well as fodder crops for animal feed. Many of the animals to which the fodder is fed are confined in large-scale farming operations (also known as CAFOs: confined animal farming operations), where they are living in unnaturally dense containment. 

The animals are fed grain diets heavily supplemented by hormones for quick fattening and medications to stave off infections, sicknesses and diseases wrought by living in such unnatural proximity.     

To treat industrial-scale fields, heavy and specialized machinery like giant tractor systems, airplanes, and helicopters are used to enable large-scale operations.  

These practices were introduced with the goal to feed the world and eradicate hunger. 

On June 16, 2016, Salisha said Frey Spray wrongly treated her property with glyphosate, an active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. Salisha sued Frey; and the parties settled out of court.  

“We’ve had problems with [Salisha] before and had to go to court. And we never were proven to be wrong there,” said Jerry Frey about the glyphosate incident. 

Salisha recalls the preliminary court hearing. 

“Judge Stockard … advised the Freys that they were not going to win in court, because we had forensic evidence . . . [positive tests for glyphosate] from the Nevada Department of Agriculture, and so they decided that they would go ahead and settle out of court and that’s what we did.”   

It was only in late 2019 that Salisha was recertified USDA organic, after enduring that three-year period of glyphosate residues diminishing enough in her soils to regain the organic stamp.  

Spraying these pesticides on a certified organic farm is a catastrophic event. Testing is underway at Salisha’s farm, but if these chemicals are present, she would lose her certification.  

If Salisha were a conventional farmer, she would have to wait 30-60 days after insecticidal spraying for human consumption of these crops.  

As an organic farmer, these same crops have to rest for at least 120 days for the current round of insecticide residue to diminish enough into the soil. To be organically saleable, the USDA must test the soil. 

All of this disruption happened with only a couple weeks remaining at Salisha’s primary farmer’s market in Reno.

Salisha’s other main outlet, the Fallon Food Hub, now has a serious shortage of organic vegetables. 

Planning for Next Season

As Salisha thinks ahead to her next growing season, she awaits the latest round of test results to decide her next course of action regarding the alleged spray-over of her farms, which could mean possible litigation.   

Now are the days of big harvest. Many crops are coming in, and lots of sales will be made. Meanwhile, Salisha’s turned the water off. She has chalked-up the rest of 2020 as a loss.   

“A lot of work I put in is pretty much wasted … It’s my preference not to buy food at the store if I don’t have to, because if I can go out there and know what’s in the product and it’s got my work in there too, you know, it’s even better … I agree with my customers –  that my food tastes the best. I truly believe that … that’s what got me into this in the first place, is wanting to have good food.  

“All I’m really worried about is being an organic farmer and feeding people good food. I mean, that’s what I do in life, you know.”    

Salisha’s Delicious Organic Produce in Churchill County is a microcosm of organic farming in the United States. Clouds of prohibited chemical agents surround organic farms. Salisha says one farmer’s gold is another farmer’s poison.

“I mean, if you look at the list of the toxicity on this stuff, it’s utterly crazy that anybody would even think about putting it on food … this is a problem that I know that the United States is facing and it’s probably not just my farm who’s has to go through things like this. And so I’m hoping that maybe we can just bring awareness to what’s actually going on, and maybe also bring awareness to [the sprayers] as to the effects that it has on people…  

“Once you’ve been actually exposed to these chemicals, then you can honestly say, ‘I know this is not good for me.’    

“This stuff is poison. And I don’t understand why today we call things that are poison, not poison. Back when I was a kid, we put a skull and crossbones on poison. You don’t see that anymore. And to me, that’s a scary thing.” 

Anthony Postman writes about agriculture, sustainability and the environment for the Ally. Support his work.

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