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Training and shop talk at annual Farm Safety Day

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 12:00 am

Ever wonder where farmers and their employees learn to safely use sulfur and other chemicals in fields and orchards?

Employers have to provide a certain number of hours in annual training, but individually hiring instructors for every type of chemical is expensive. Instead, the Agribusiness committee of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce organizes Farm Safety Day each year to fulfill some of those required hours and keep the community up-to-date on state regulations. It might sound like a heavy load, but the reality is a few hours of farmworkers talking shop with volunteer trainers they have likely known for years.

On Thursday, 500 farmworkers showed up at the Lodi Grape Festival Grounds for the 16th annual event. Groups of 15 were led through eight mini-classes on everything from leaks and spills to calibrating sprayers and mixing, loading and disposing of pesticides.

The program is approved by the Department of Pesticide Regulators, said organizer Craig Ledbetter.

The 100 trainers are supervisors from local farms who volunteered two days of their time to learn the material, then teach it to the workers. About 80 percent of attendees speak Spanish, so most of the volunteers spoke Spanish in each lesson.

Amy Blagg, executive director of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association, said the training sinks in because of the volunteer teachers.

"Because it's taught by their peers, people aren't afraid to ask questions," she said.

The event costs about $13,000 to put on, paid for largely by local sponsors.

During the day, some attendees who hold pesticide licenses will earn seven hours of credit. People who don't carry those licenses are certified on the use of sulfur, a weed control pesticide called gramaxone and a miticide called Agri-Mek.

"Sulfur is so widely used throughout agriculture, especially in vineyards. It's the one product people see in the air, so farmers get the most complaints about that one," said Ledbetter.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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