Bee boxes in an Ohio field. Photo courtesy of FieldWatch

Organic and conventional farmers successfully live and work side by side despite their different cultivation techniques. Leaders at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) hope improvements to the Ohio Sensitive Crop Registry will increase participation and help these neighbors continue to be respectful of each other’s crops.

ODA began the service in 2014 as an online mapping program to identify areas where people keep beehives or produce specialty or organic crops, according to Jared Shaffer, plant health inspector. Growers enter their locations into the program, making it easy for pesticide applicators to locate sensitive areas before spraying.

Fieldwatch crop duster

A crop duster spraying a farm field. Photo courtesy of FieldWatch

Sensitive Crops Require Communication and Awareness

“It’s essentially a communication and awareness tool for the applicators to try to minimize unintentional damage into these areas,” says Shaffer, who manages the data side of the program.

New in 2018 is a partnership with FieldWatch, a national collaborative originally developed by Purdue University. Launched in 2008, the nonprofit company currently works in 19 states and one Canadian province, promoting communications between pesticide applicators, beekeepers and growers of sensitive crops.

READ MORE: How FieldWatch Protects Pollinators

“The beauty of this system is the fact that this is voluntary,” says Stephanie Regagnon, president and CEO of FieldWatch. “It is not a regulatory enforcement program. But people need to participate. It’s these types of programs that will allow our industry to continue with our freedom to operate, and it also increases neighbor relations, and that’s a good thing for our industry.”

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The FieldWatch partnership offers added benefits not previously available in Ohio. Shaffer says the registry is now more user-friendly and streamlined to align with other states that also offer it. The basic tools are still free for all users, like streaming real-time data to equipment in the field. FieldWatch also offers signs for purchase to mark sensitive areas.

How FieldWatch Connects Farmers and Beekeepers

Beekeepers and growers can access the system at any time to add or remove locations and make needed changes. ODA validates each location, but users manage the information themselves. Shaffer notes that both commercial and hobbyist beekeepers are encouraged to participate, but the program is intended for commercial agriculture only. It does not include private gardens or residential landscaping areas, but instead is limited to operations growing more than a half-acre of a single crop.

Regagnon says FieldWatch has experienced exponential growth in the past few years and as for measuring outcomes, anecdotal evidence is positive. For example, one large tomato processor working in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana says drift claims have gone down by 80 percent over the eight years they’ve participated.

Cooperation and collaboration will continue to improve this program and user experiences in the coming years.