Drift Debacle

An Oxnard-based berry company will pay a fine after 27 members of a berry harvesting crew working in a field on the Hartnell Ranch in Salinas were sickened by residue from pesticides sprayed on a nearby field.

Reiter Berry Farms, a member of Reiter Affiliated Companies and the largest supplier of Driscoll strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, agreed to the judgment, which was filed last month along with a complaint by the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney’s office declined to speak about the judgment, nor disclose the amount of the fine, because a judge has yet to sign off on it.

The incident occurred on June 28, 2017, when Reiter employees applied a variety of pesticides and other substances to farmland on Hartnell Ranch. A harvesting crew employed by Ancona Harvesting LLC began harvesting berries on a neighboring farm and about two hours into their work, members of the crew developed symptoms of pesticide exposure, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches and eye irritation.

In the written complaint, the District Attorney alleged that Reiter used a pesticide in a way that conflicted with its label instructions, allowing multiple substances to drift to the nearby field. The complaint also alleged that the pesticide applicator failed to measure the wind speed at the field and failed to evaluate the weather conditions at and around the field, all violations of the law. The complaint also alleges Reiter failed to timely report the use of pesticides at the site for at least two years preceding the 2017 incident.

A media representative for Reiter did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the attorney representing the company in the case.

It’s unclear when the judge will sign off on the agreement.

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