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Gergela: Long Island doesn't need aquifer panel

A farm along Route 25 in Calverton. (Oct.

A farm along Route 25 in Calverton. (Oct. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

The Suffolk County Legislature voted earlier this month to create a bicounty commission on aquifer protection. Long Island farmers are equally concerned about our groundwater, an issue that affects everyone in Nassau and Suffolk counties. But we believe oversight of this precious resource should be handled at the state level -- and that the state's Department of Environmental Conservation and Health Department are doing an effective job.

Before being approved for use here, all chemicals must be evaluated and registered. And the DEC is proactive about withdrawing specific pesticides when there are signs of groundwater contamination.

Creating either a county or statewide commission to accelerate these stringent and comprehensive pesticide management practices would further reduce the number of pesticides available to farmers. But pesticides are a critical component of our food system. A better approach -- a proposed pesticide management plan under consideration by the DEC -- would provide a science-based process to evaluate if a pesticide is truly problematic and economic alternatives to address pest problems.

Pharmaceuticals, gasoline, cleaning agents and many other chemicals are often found in Long Island's water supply in trace amounts. But they all have a place or purpose, and it would be detrimental to society if they were banned. The same thing applies to pesticides. Illnesses such as malaria, encephalitis, and West Nile virus would be rampant if Suffolk County could not spray for mosquitoes. Bubonic plague would return if we could not exterminate rats. Hotels and restaurants would have food-safety issues without the use of pesticides to control ants, cockroaches and rodents.

Long Island farmers are highly educated and trained in the proper use and disposal of both pesticides and fertilizers. The state DEC issues licenses for pesticide use, and many hours of training are required to keep them up to date. Several pest-management strategies have been adopted on Long Island over the past 30 years, including monitoring, conservation and natural biological control, use of pesticides with minimum or reduced risk to the environment and farmers, and other non-chemical options.

Monitoring techniques and thresholds -- ensuring that pesticides are used only when a crop is facing significant loss -- have been established for many major pests on Long Island. Greenhouse growers commonly monitor insects and manually scout their crops. Traps are used to monitor corn pests, and weekly counts determine the timing and frequency of controls.

Several growers are using a new tool from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in which field information and climate help growers determine the potential risk for infection and when and how often they should spray fungicide for late blight.

In fact, the Long Island Farm Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, Peconic Land Trust, Long Island Wine Council, First Pioneer Farm Credit -- which provides 90 percent of mortgages and operating loans for farmers -- and Nassau/Suffolk Landscape Gardeners Association are cooperating with the DEC in a scientific approach to managing pests and using the least amount of pesticides possible.

Everything -- from pharmaceuticals, to gasoline and cleaning agents -- has the potential to leach into our groundwater. Before any specific chemical is banned, there must be a scientific evaluation to ensure that viable and economical alternatives exist.

The ability to grow local food, the protection of a $300 million investment, 4,000 jobs and a foundation for tourism on Long Island are important priorities.

Regardless of whether a new watchdog takes shape, it's important for the public to understand that Long Island's farmers adhere to the highest level of pesticide management to help protect the health of the public. We are fully committed to doing our part to ensure pure water supplies today and for generations to come.

Joe Gergela is executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.


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