New regulation for vegetable farmers - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

New regulation for vegetable farmers

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Plastic covers a field at the UGA Tifton Campus.  Plastic covers like this one are used by vegetable farmers. Plastic covers a field at the UGA Tifton Campus. Plastic covers like this one are used by vegetable farmers.
Tift County farmer Russell Greene tries on his mask at the Worksmart Clinic in Tifton. Tift County farmer Russell Greene tries on his mask at the Worksmart Clinic in Tifton.
The health questionnaire that is required to be filled out as part of the certification process for handling fumigants. The health questionnaire that is required to be filled out as part of the certification process for handling fumigants.
Farm equipment sits under a shed at the UGA Tifton campus. Farm equipment sits under a shed at the UGA Tifton campus.
The levels on the spirometer at the Worksmart Clinic in Tifton after a test.  A consistent level is necessary to pass the test. The levels on the spirometer at the Worksmart Clinic in Tifton after a test. A consistent level is necessary to pass the test.
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By Jay Polk - bio | email

TIFTON, GA (WALB) - Vegetables have been grown in Georgia for thousands of years and recently farmers have turned to chemicals to help improve their yields.

But a new regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency has changed the procedure used to handle those chemicals.

And that will make vegetable farmers like Russell Greene take some time out of the fields this week.  And he has a busy week ahead of him.

"We've got a machine that's laying down the black plastic," he said.

Underneath that plastic will go eggplant seeds. But right now, he's not working in the field; he's being fitted for a mask. And he seems to be adjusting to it well.

"It's fine. I don't have no problem with it," he said.

For a good crop, growers like Greene have to use chemicals. But while the fumigants under the plastic sheets are effective, they can have some nasty side effects. So the Environmental Protection Agency recently changed the rules involving the use of those chemicals.

That's why Greene spent his early afternoon getting fitted for a mask. But that's not the only thing that's changed.

Stanley Culpepper, an Associate Professor at the University of Georgia Tifton campus said, "the fumigant management plan has to be completed. Now what the fumigant management plan does is that basically documents every step in the fumigant process of a grower fumigating, from two weeks before you fumigate to a week or so after you fumigate."

Farmers also have to go through a multiple step process to get certified to handle chemicals. There's a questionnaire to ensure that people working with the chemicals don't have any pre-existing health issues. For some, the next step is the spirometry test.

Deanna Sanders from Worksmart Occupational Health said that it's, "a test where a person blows into a machine, and it actually tests their lung function. Obviously, if someone is going to wear a respirator they're going to have to have a good lung function."

But the most important step is making sure that the mask is a good fit.

"We determine if the respirator will fit properly to their face to provide protection," said Sanders.

But there is a cost involved, and it could be more than $2000 per farm. According to the EPA, the extra cost is worth it for the workers who have to deal with the chemicals at planting time.

Culpepper said, "the overall objective is to make everybody safer."

For their part the farmers want to follow the law, even if the masks are going to take a bit of getting used to.

Greene said, "I think I got it down pretty pat. Just get it down close to my face - to my nose."

And with no new chemicals coming to fields in the near future, more vegetable farmers around South Georgia will be looking like scuba divers - and spending extra money to grow vegetables - in the years to come.

Farmers who have to get the masks can call their local doctor's office to see if they can get them certified. You can reach the Worksmart Clinic by clicking here.

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