Organic Consumers Association

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S. Idaho Farmers Regroup after Pesticide Mishap

PAUL, Idaho - When a federal agency sprayed a powerful herbicide that eventually wiped out crops worth millions of dollars for 118 local farmers, some of them lost more than money.

Brad Rogers of Paul was one of the farmers. He lost his entire 1,100-acre farm, his only means of recouping the $1.5 million in losses he incurred from the misapplied herbicide.

"Three years into my losses the bank just said 'you're done,'" said Rogers, who farmed sugar beets, beans, wheat and hay for 22 years before he sold the farm to pay off his creditors.

Almost a full decade has passed since the Bureau of Land Management sprayed the chemical - called Oust - on wildfire-scorched public lands to control weeds. Eventually the wind blew the chemical onto surrounding farms, causing widespread damage to thousands of acres.

Now, although traces of the herbicide have disappeared from the land it once stripped, the legal dust has yet to settle.

On Aug. 24, a jury in U.S. District Court in Boise presided over by Judge B. Lynn Winmill found the BLM and chemical manufacturer E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. negligent in four sample cases of the mass lawsuit filed by a coalition of farmers.

The jury awarded the four plaintiffs more than $17.5 million, said Peter Houtsma, an attorney with Holland and Hart of Boise, the plaintiffs' attorney. With more than 100 more plaintiffs still to prove their damages during the next phase of the proceedings, Houtsma said, the total damages could exceed $200 million.

But with that many plaintiffs and the high possibility of appeals, the Oust case could drag on for years.

"I hope it doesn't take that long. Counting the year of the fire, we're into it nine years now," said Dan Schaeffer, who farms about 4,000 acres northwest of Paul.

Either way, Rogers' days on the farm have passed him by.

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