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Farmers could face fine for crop dusting over schools

By Sammy Fretwell • Updated May 5, 2017 at 10:09 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. — With concerns about mega farms unresolved in South Carolina, a state legislator is proposing to prohibit crop dusting near South Carolina schools while students are in class or participating in after-school activities, such as sports.

Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, introduced a bill Thursday to ban aerial spraying within 1,000 feet of a school during times when students are on campus. Anyone spraying during the school day nearby could be fined up to $5,000 and lose his or her aerial application permit, according to the legislation.

Taylor's legislation follows an incident that disrupted a school next to a mega corn farm in Aiken County last week. Students were moved inside and outdoor activities were canceled after a strange odor wafted onto school grounds. School district officials blamed a crop duster who was spraying nearby, but the crop duster said he didn't cause the odor.

Regardless, Taylor said the broader issue is to shield school kids from crop dusting while they are trying to learn. No state law bans crop dusting near schools, he said.

"Don't spray over schools when kids are there,'' Taylor said. "It's pretty straightforward.''

Prospects of the bill passing this year are slim since the General Assembly is nearing the close of its session. But the measure can be carried over for debate next year. What opposition it might garner from major farming interests was unknown Thursday. S.C. Farm Bureau President Harry Ott declined comment.

Crop dusting is the practice of applying chemicals, such as weed killers and bug killers, onto farm fields from an airplane. Instead of land-applying chemicals, mega farms sometimes rely on airplanes to drop chemicals onto the ground because they have so much land to cover.

South Carolina has scores of schools that lie in rural, farming areas. More than a dozen companies crop dust in South Carolina as a full-time business, according to Clemson University, which regulates pesticide applications in the state. Crop dusting complaints aren't common, but Clemson is aware of the recent incident in Aiken County, said Mike Weyman, the university's deputy director of regulatory services.

Kandi Green, whose 10-year-old son attends a school next to a mega farm, said crop dusters should stay away during school hours.

"I think it would be for the best,'' said Green, who said her son had an asthma attack during recess last week at the Oakwood Windsor School. The Aiken school is near where a crop duster was working last week. Green said she worries about chemicals that could drift from planes to the school.

Crop dusting near mega farms has been a source of complaints in eastern Aiken and Barnwell counties, where some 6,000 acres of forests have been cleared in the past four years to create massive vegetable fields, The State newspaper reported last week. Critics say crop dusters have disrupted their communities by flying low over farm fields on weekends and releasing chemicals onto their land.

The bill number is H-4277.

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