The agricultural industry has found itself routinely making the national nightly news since the tragic events of Sept. 11. Unfortunately though, the news reports have focused on the potentially disastrous mix of agricultural chemicals and aerial applicators.

In fact, the FBI recently issued a warning to the agricultural aviation industry to be vigilant to any suspicious activity relative to the use, training in or acquisition of dangerous chemicals. The federal agency is also asking ag pilots to be on the lookout for anybody inquiring about the airborne application of chemicals, and to report any threats, unusual purchases, suspicious behavior by employees or customers, or unusual contacts with the public.

Despite these warnings, Pat Kornegay, president of the National Agricultural Aviation Association, reinforces his organization's belief that aerial applicators have been “grossly misrepresented” as a threat to national security. However, the group has also asked its members to continue to properly secure their aircraft and their business operations.

“Agricultural aircraft have never been a threat to the security of the United States or its citizens. The National Agricultural Aviation Association has cooperated with authorities in addressing every aspect of these far flung theoretical assumptions surrounding recent events, but we are again victims of media misinformation,” he says.

“It is our hope that governmental authorities can come to understand the disastrous results of these actions. The agricultural production of this nation will wilt on the vine, the forest fires will continue to consume our wilderness, and an industry that has always been essential to the production of food and fiber will be destroyed if this is allowed to continue,” Kornegay says.

“When we lose control of the sources of our nation's food supply because of ill-advised actions based on erroneous information, a real threat to our nation's security will be realized.”

Whatever the risk to national security, Herb Willcutt, Extension agricultural engineer and safety specialist at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., says now is the time to give thought to storing any remaining farm pesticides or fertilizers over the coming winter months.

“In view of recent events, I would probably keep a closer eye on any potentially hazardous materials, and I would be a little more diligent in locking up all farm chemicals and fertilizers. Plus, it never hurts to secure and safeguard farm property for safety, as well as economic reasons,” says Willcutt.

“With the winter months coming on, now is as good a time as any to insure that any stockpile of farm pesticides or fertilizers is protected from both the cold and possible prying hands.

“Some of the hazardous materials used for production agriculture need to be protected from freezing. All farm chemicals and fertilizers should be secured from children and other unauthorized personnel who do not know how or what they may be dealing with,” he says. “The theft of chemicals and fertilizers, especially anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, which could be used for drug and explosive purposes, poses a real economic risk as well as a danger to humans.”

Willcutt recommends farmers store pesticides only in labeled containers, with secondary containment in the event of a leak, spill or ruptured container, and in a locked storage facility. The storage facility should also be ventilated with a forced air fan, which should be turned on before entering.

In addition, he says, all electric wiring and lights should meet national electric codes for facilities storing hazardous materials. Farmers should make routine inspections on storage facilities and should report any materials stolen or tampered with to proper authorities.