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Farm Information Line FAQ for September

By Robin Trott, Horticulture Extension Educator, Douglas County 
Can you sell your vegetables if they got flooded this season? Do you want to know how to store unused pesticides or dispose of them? What are some of the financial counseling resources for financially stressed farmers? We answer these frequently asked questions today...on the Farm Information Line.

1. Flooded Vegetables

A flooded vegetable garden after heavy rain.
Photo: Anne Sawyer.
Some areas of Minnesota were inundated with rain this summer, so much so that some vegetable crops were flooded out.  Is this a total loss or can you sell vegetables?

Floodwaters can contain harmful microbes such as E. coli or salmonella that could contaminate produce. If any edible portions of produce were touched by floodwater, that produce may be considered to be adulterated and cannot be sold.

However, there are two types of flooding. The first is localized ponding, which occurs when a heavy storm saturates the soil and water pools at the soil surface.  Ponding can kill plants if it takes too long for the storm bred ponds to dissipate, but is less likely to result in contamination from human pathogens than overland flooding. However, there is no guarantee that ponded water is free from pathogens.

The second type of flooding occurs when it rains so hard and long that rivers and streams overrun their banks and flood fields.  This type of flood water is much more likely to be contaminated with human pathogens from sources such as raw sewage from septic systems or municipalities and manure from farms or fields. Overland flood water may also contain chemicals or other contaminants. Produce that has been in contact with flood waters from overland flow cannot be sold.

Once bacteria or other pathogens contact produce, they can be nearly impossible to remove. Lots of fruits and vegetables have rough skin (such as cantaloupe or strawberries) or folds (such as leafy greens) where pathogens can lurk. Contaminants may be present on the surface of fruits and vegetables or may be internalized through cuts, stem scars, or other points of entry. Standing water can also infiltrate some fruits such as tomatoes and cantaloupes. Simply washing produce is not sufficient for removing contamination once it’s present.

For more information regarding flood contamination of produce, gardeners should refer to guidance from regulatory agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Visit Extension’s On-Farm Food Safety web page to learn more about produce safety and risk reduction practices, to find upcoming training opportunities, or to contact the On-Farm Food Safety team.

NOTE: Before cleaning up or destroying crops in flooded fields, check with your crop insurance and/or their local Farm Services Agency (FSA) representatives regarding exact documentation to certify losses, procedures for initiating claims, possible financial assistance.

Additional resources:

FDA’s Guidance for Industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-affected Food Crops for Human Consumption

Produce Safety Alliance: Food Safety for Flooded Farms 

Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Produce Safety Program 

2. How to store and dispose of unused chemicals

I have also had a few questions of how to store or dispose of unused pesticides.  Whether you use organic or synthetic pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides), it is always good at this time of year to review the EPA regulations to know you are storing or disposing properly.
Follow all storage instructions on the pesticide label.

  1. Do not stockpile. Reduce storage needs by buying only the amount of pesticide that you will need during the current season when the pest is active. 
  2. Never store pesticides in application equipment. Only mix the amount needed for the current application. If the application is complete, but excess mixture remains in the equipment, continue to apply according to the label directions. 
  3. Store pesticides out of reach of children and pets. Keep all pesticides in a locked cabinet in a well-ventilated utility area or garden shed. Never store pesticides under kitchen or bathroom sinks.
  4. Always store pesticides in their original containers, complete with its label. 
  5. Preserve the product label in a legible condition; consider making an extra copy for safekeeping. Do not allow the label to become missing, damaged, or destroyed. 
  6. Inspect containers periodically for damage or leaks. 

Farmers and commercial pesticide users generally cannot dispose of pesticides in household hazardous waste programs. However, many states run pesticide disposal programs specifically for farmers and commercial pesticide users, which are often referred to as “Clean Sweep” programs. Look into these programs at a waste disposal facility near you.

3. Rapid Ag Response Financial Counseling

To find a new way to problem solve in the 21st century, in 1998 the Minnesota Legislature worked with the state's agricultural leaders to create resources to tackle emerging agricultural challenges. The result was the Rapid Agricultural Response Fund (RARF).

Since that beginning, RARF it has helped develop research answers to some of the most puzzling and unpredictable problems facing our farmers. Within this program, University of Minnesota Extension will continue offering one-to-one financial counseling to farmers in serious financial stress.

RARF augments services currently available in Minnesota, including the Farmer-Lender Mediation program, which is overseen by Extension, and the state Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Farm Advocates assistance.

Financial analysts participating in this program include retired agricultural business professionals from Extension and other organizations. The program is set up to provide analysts at geographically diverse locations in Minnesota. They’ve undergone training to update their capabilities and will work closely with current Extension colleagues.

To set up a confidential appointment with an Extension farm financial analyst, farmers can call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

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