Court Considers Pesticide Drift as Trespassing

pesticide spray driftThis week, a lawsuit in Minnesota concerning the drift of pesticide into an organic farm can, under some conditions, be considered trespassing.

Getting a farm certified organic is difficult and federal rules are strict about pesticides whether they are applied intentionally or as drift.

The case concerns Oluf Johnson’s organic farm in Stearns County, and their neighbors, the Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Co. The drift problems began in 1998 and when it happened, the cooperative apologized but wouldn’t pay for damage.

The drift problem continued with incidents in 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2008. Minnesota cited the cooperative four times for violating pesticide laws by applying the chemicals on windy days. But each time, the Johnsons, had to burn fields and plow under soybeans and take their fields out of production, sometimes for years. Finally in 2009 they sued the co-op, charging negligence and trespassing.

A district court threw out the suit but this week an appeals court ruled in Johnson’s favor and sent the case back to district court.

Dr. Alexandra Klass, a professor of environmental law at the University of Minnesota, says this decision is in line with other courts. “The vast majority of jurisdictions find that pesticide drift is a trespass.” she says.

The article in the Minnesota Star Tribune ( goes on to say:

“Whenever this happens it will give people with overspray a legal avenue to pursue,” said Doug Spanier, an attorney with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which administers pesticide enforcement regulations in the state. And that could go for any farmer whose crop is made inedible by someone else’s chemical spray and even homeowners whose property has been damaged by a neighbor’s overuse of RoundUp, legal experts said.”

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