Stuart Hill raises organic vegetables and fruit at his home in Cumberland.

He also lives so close to an apple orchard that the pesticides sprayed on those trees can blow onto his crops or into the windows of his house, he said.

Now, thanks to a new state law, Hill gets a warning from the orchard operator a day before the trees get sprayed.

“I’ll close up the side of the greenhouse that faces the orchard” and make sure the windows are shut in his kids’ bedrooms, he said.

Maine’s agricultural pesticide notification law, considered the only one of its kind in the country, took effect this spring. Any resident within a quarter-mile of a farm or within 500 feet of a fruit tree or Christmas tree orchard can sign up to be notified before any mechanical pesticide applications, such as by airplanes or air-blast sprayers.

Mainers who want to know about pesticide spraying near their homes have until June 15 to sign up for notifications this year.

After that, names will be added to next year’s list.

About 525 Mainers signed up in time to get notifications this spring, and about 250 more have signed up for notifications starting in July, said Paul Schlein, spokesman for the Maine Board of Pesticide Control. Some people on the registry live in rural farm areas, while others are in the suburbs, Schlein said.

Hill signed up last year.

He lives about 400 feet from Orchard Hill Farm, and for years he had concerns about pesticide spraying by the apple orchard’s former owner.

He didn’t like the spray drifting onto his vegetables, but his bigger concern was the health effects it might have on his children, Hill said.

“A lot of times the orchards spray at night. If there is a slight breeze, then that fungicide or whatever they are spraying is coming right into our windows,” he said.

Hill said the orchard’s current owners have cut back on pesticide use and have almost always called or sent e-mails on the evenings before they spray.

The law allows for emergency spraying without notification under certain conditions.

“They’ve reached out to the community,” Hill said.

The owners of Orchard Hill Farm could not be reached Thursday.

Christy Hemenway of Bath put her name on the free registry in hopes of protecting her beehives. She owns Gold Star Honeybees and tries to raise healthy, pesticide-free bees at her home and for clients around the state.

“I mostly wanted to see whether the system works well so I can encourage other folks to sign up,” she said.

She hasn’t received any warnings, however, and isn’t likely to get any under the current rules.

The closest commercial neighbor that’s likely to spray pesticides on a large scale is a golf course, which isn’t covered by the law.

And, while the golf course is well within foraging range for her bees, it’s more than a quarter-mile from her home.

The golf course also is too far away for Hemenway to take advantage of other state notification rules.

“There probably is a bit of a flaw in that it doesn’t reach farther,” Hemenway said of the new law.

“Two miles would be minimal for bees. They don’t know about property lines.”

But, she said, the law “is a step in the right direction.”

The law created an initial burden for some farmers and orchard owners because they had to send notices to neighbors about the new registry.

“Some of the farmers had a huge list of people they had to notify,” said Renae Moran, secretary of the Maine State Pomological Society and a fruit tree specialist for the University of Maine.

The actual spraying notifications appear to be less of a problem, she said.

“For most farmers, there are one or two people who want to be notified,” Moran said.

Apple growers say, however, that they can’t always plan far enough ahead to give notice, because of changes in the weather or sudden pest outbreaks.

“When you have damage that’s going to affect you economically, then you deal with that pest. You need to be able to do that right away,” said Ellen McAdam, whose family operates McDougal Orchards in Springvale.

The law allows for same-day notification in such cases.

“It is a good thing for neighbors to know that you’re spraying and what you’re spraying. It’s just too bad it’s come to the point there’s legislation,” she said.

“You expect everyone to talk to everyone, and that, in a lot of times, doesn’t happen.”

None of McDougal Orchards’ neighbors signed up for notifications this spring, McAdam said. Anyone who signs up now will be posted on the list in July.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com