Tupelo organic farmer loses crop to herbicide drift

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Native Son Farm owner Will Reed lost sleep this month over his heirloom tomatoes – he couldn’t figure out why they weren’t growing.
“I started to do some research and came up with pictures of 2,4-D damage on tomatoes,” he said. “It’s a chemical used a lot in commercial lawn care, agriculture.”
Reed reported the crop conditions to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and a representative was sent to investigate the plants.
The state ag representative said he couldn’t comment on the investigation but Reed said the representative confirmed the herbicide damage.
Some of Reed’s plants were taken to Mississippi State University where they are being investigated by a plant pathologist.
According to a publication from Clemson University’s cooperative extension service, hot temperatures, moist soils and temperature inversions increase the potential of 2,4-D to vaporize and drift rather long distances from the spray area.
Tupelo has experienced perfect weather conditions for herbicide drift in recent months.
The plants affected by the drift are heirloom tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, all members of the solanaceae family of plants.
“We grow a lot of vegetables but the heirloom tomatoes are how we pay the bills,” said Reed, who has owned the farm with his wife since January 2010.
The more than 4,000 damaged plants represent work started in February. In a low-yield year, each plant will produce about five pounds of tomatoes. The 1,500 tomato plants could have produced 7,500 pounds of tomatoes which sell for $3 per pound. When combined with proceeds from the eggplants and peppers, Reed said they are looking at a loss about $30,000 to $40,000 in gross income.
They will still be able to provide tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to Native Son’s Community Supported Agriculture members but they won’t have the crop yield to sell much outside of meeting their CSA commitment.
In addition to lost income, the affected fields and crops they yield are no longer considered organic.
Reed doesn’t know where the drift came from and said he doesn’t have the money for a legal battle but hopes the responsible party has insurance to help cover his family’s significant loss.
jb.clark@journalinc.com