Crops Specialist Helps Farmer with Medical Question

George Cummins, crops field specialist

In recent years agri-businesses have introduced several new pesticides (fungicides and insecticides) applied to the seed or to be applied with special planter attachments. These products vary in their toxicity to humans. These products offer potential benefits to the farmer but also require special procedures and protective equipment to reduce the risk of exposure to the farmer and also to anyone handling or transporting these products or working with the planting and application equipment.

During the 2003 spring planting season, a Floyd County farmer and his son became severely ill with muscle weakness, tunnel vision, pounding headaches, slurred speech, sweating, and dizziness. They spent time in the hospital emergency room and over several days were examined by three different doctors who offered no explanation for the symptoms. In desperation they called the ISU Extension crop specialist, who they had worked with on several other occasions, at home at 9 p.m. on a Sunday evening. After a brief discussion of products used and planting practices, it was determined that the farmers had been exposed to an organophosphate (extremely toxic) insecticide applied to the seed by the seed corn company without the farmer's knowledge. The insecticide used in this case is a stored grain protectant. Its use on seed corn is not a common practice. When this explanation was shared the next day with the doctors involved, they concurred with the diagnosis given by the ISU Extension crops specialist.

This experience, its causes and preventative strategies have been shared across the state by the ISU Extension network as part of on-going pesticide education program. This case has been included in the recertification training given to 20,000 private pesticide applicators and 5,700 commercial pesticide applicators statewide. This information has also been shared at regional Crop Advantage Conferences, Ag Chemical Dealer Updates, and county crop clinics.

Post-meeting evaluations and individual comments indicate increased awareness of the potential risks associated with use of these new products and adoption of the strategies to reduce exposure while handling and transporting, applying and planting, or calibrating and cleaning out application equipment. The farmer also has an accounting business and has actively shared his experience with his farmer clients, his agri-business suppliers, and his medical care providers. He is a strong supporter of ISU Extension services and praises local extension staff for their competence, accessibility, and invaluable assistance when he was desperate for some answers. He has agreed to be the subject of an Operation Impact article, an effort to inform the general public and key decision makers of the value of ISU Extension programs and services.

Page last updated: July 9, 2006
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