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'Operation Pollinator' is good, but RDO can do more

"Operation Pollinator Wildflowers in Bloom." There's even something warlike in the name of the program "Operation Pollinator." I know that when we at Toxic Taters first heard about RDO taking on the project in 2015, our first question was "how many pollinators would die in the effort?" That's a question that RDO still hasn't been willing to answer despite our requests for information and invitations to share their successes publicly.

We're glad to see it when RDO does good work and makes changes to cut their pesticide use and farm more sustainably. We believe they can farm more sustainably. We think that they could lead the way in the industry. This summer alone we spoke with hundreds of people at events across the central sands region telling them that RDO is taking steps: starting to use more cover crops, targeting their spraying, working to cut their water use.

But, we've also been honest that they have a long way to go.

According to the USDA Pesticide Data Program frozen potato products, like those produced by RDO typically have the residue of 24 different pesticides in them. Those include carcinogens, neurotoxins, developmental or reproductive toxins, and suspected hormone disruptors as well as nine honeybee toxins.

One has to ask, is it really a good idea to lure in pollinators with flowers and spray them with chemicals that are known to be moderately, highly, or even chronically toxic to them?

Even if we can imagine that it could be good for the bees and other pollinators, let's take a look at the amount of land impacted. According to the Aug. 5 article by Nicole Vik, "Operation Pollinator Wildflowers in Bloom," RDO has added 75 acres of of wildflowers since 2015. In this same time period, they've added roughly 500 acres of potato fields and are currently working on permits for 260 additional acres. These are the acres that we are aware of that are in RDO's name. Much of their farming acreage is on leased land and may be under the owner's name.

RDO is the largest potato grower in the country. According to their own website, they grow over 60,000 acres of potatoes annually, including thousands of acres here in Minnesota. We have to ask whether a few acres of wildflowers compensate for the damages done?

Pesticides aren't just an issue about potatoes. Corn, wheat, beets, and many other crops use chemicals when not grown organically. Potatoes, however, use those chemicals every five to 10 days.

We think that RDO can do better. We believe that they can lead the industry to a better way of growing potatoes and all their crops that will prove to be more sustainable for our health, our economy, and our environment.

That's why we're continuing to call on RDO to do the following:

1. Cut the use of hazardous pesticides significantly to protect the rights of nature and people.

2. Adopt farming practices that promote biological diversity, healthy water, soil, and air for the animals and people that depend on this land

3. Fund human and environmental studies to understand the effects and restore damaged ecosystems as nature has rights that should be legally protected just as people do.

4. Be accountable to our communities by releasing information publicly about what chemicals/pesticides are applied.