A Farmer's Life Dream Ends in Disaster in his own words

The following is taken from "Pesticides and You", Fall 1997.

Farmer Jerry Vann has a story to tell about the adverse effects and economic effects that his  chemical intensive farming practices have had on him and his family. He wants to tell his story in  the hope of helping others to understand the dangers associated with chemical use. Mr. Vann first  told his story in his local newspaper in Sikseton, Missouri, the standard Democrat, this summer. That  article generated interest and concern in the farm community in his part of Missouri and down the  Mississippi in Tennessee. His poisoning and resulting financial crisis is a story that needs to be told  throughout rural America in an effort to help farmers better understand the potential health and  economic impacts of chemical use. Mr. Vann attributes his neurological disease to exposure to  organophosphate pesticides, but readily acknowledges it could be related to a mix of chemicals. His  goal now is to educate and find answers. He could also like to find some relief from the poisoning  symptoms he suffers daily. in his own words, Mr. Vann describes here what led to his current  condition.

NCAMP has launched the Toxics Warning Signals and Alternatives Project to better articulate the  urgency for shifting away from chemical dependency in pest management and to show the viability of  alternatives. In an age where risk assessments often try to tell us that there is no cause for concern, the  stories like Mr. Vann's tell us quite the opposite. To share a toxic warning signal story, please contact  NCAMP, 701 E Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003, 202-543-5450, e-mail ncamp@ncamp.org. To  respond with greater public involvement, NCAMP is circulating the Platform for Consumer and  Agricultural Consensus on Safe Food and Agricultural Practices, which follows Mr. Vann's piece. To  sign on to the Platform, please contact NCAMP.

Jerry Vann
I am a 58 year old farmer who is dying due to the chemicals used to grow cheaper food for our tables.

Growing Up with a Love for Farming
When I was a boy growing up all I could think of was growing up to be a farmer. Everything I did  growing up was done with the intention of being a farmer. As the years went on I kept loving  farming. As I started high school my freshman year, I joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA). I  really enjoyed this organization as we got to do things I had never done before. We would go on  field trips and see different farm business and experiment stations. In the fall of my freshman year a  rodeo came to Sikeston. They were going to have a calf scramble and I was elected to represent our  FFA Chapter. They put six calves in the arena. and 12 boys. If you caught a calf and got it across in  front of the chutes, the calf was yours. They turned the calves loose and all the boys took off after the  calves. An old cowboy was standing there and he said "Son, just put your arm around her neck and  fingers in his nose and lean back against the calf and pull his head over." I did and the calf just fell down  on the ground. I put my rope around her neck and I had my first project in FFA. The calf made a cow  and the cow raised a calf.

My sophomore year in school I had the cow and calf that I could sell. Still wanting to be a farmer I  sold the cow and calf and bought registered bred Angus heifer. That summer I worked driving a  cotton picker. We would work up to 100 hours a week, I sure learned a lot about operating  machines and how to work and save money as I had to buy my own school clothes.  As summer was over and fall came I was very active in school. The FFA Chapter elected me  treasurer. I continued my love for farming and when I graduated from high school in the summer of  1957 my father helped me get a tractor and 80 acres of ground to rent. I was to work for my father and  farm my own farm. However, 1957 was the wettest year in history for this area and when school was  out in June we didn't have any crops planted and my 80 acres were under water. My father told me he  thought I should go to town and get me a job. He took back the tractor and land and I went to St. Louis  to wok for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft.

In the spring of 1958 1 started college at Arkansas State. I went one semester and thought I would  just get married, instead of going to college. In January 1959 I married my high school sweetheart,  Wanda Walls. In the fall of 1961 our first child, was born, Mitchell. I walked and hitchhiked from  Matthews, Missouri to Jonesboro, Arkansas and graduated from Arkansas State in 1964.  After several years in equipment sales and the birth of our second child, Cheryl, in 1973 I started  farming full time -- my life dream. I had 120 acres of my father's, land rented and 480 acres from my  friend. I farmed cotton, corn, milo, wheat and soybeans. Inflation was hitting the country at this time  and a person could do no wrong. Everything you did made money and everything you owned was worth  more each year. I kept expanding and buying more equipment.

 The Surge in Farm Chemical Use
 The 1970's were very good years for farms except the early 70's was when farm labor started  moving to town to work and farmers had to start to look for less labor. Chemicals were the answer.  They could work the herbicide Treflan (trifluralin) into the soil before planting (preplant), then put  another new herbicide, Karmex (diuron), behind the planter. This did a pretty good job controlling grass  and weeds. The came the herbicide, Atrazine, on corn. Everyone was very excited about the use of  chemicals. Chemical companies were very cooperative and they were coming out with new chemicals  each year. Most chemicals were mixed with water to apply. We could put two or three pounds of  something in 10 gallons of water and apply.

Nobody Knew the Danger
Nobody knew the danger of the chemicals. Not even the manufacturers. Farmers were told to be  careful using the chemicals. As time passed on, my son came into farming with me. This filled another  dream of mine. We farmed 3,000 acres. A lot of it was cotton, rice, corn, wheat and soybeans. As the  farming operation got bigger, less labor meant more chemicals were used. More was being done for  safety and farmers were being taught by chemical companies and the government. However, when the  farmer is planting in the spring he is really under the gun, against time and weather. Being in such a hurry  the farmer gets careless and things happen.

 Unrealistic Protective Equipment Regulations The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has  taught and told farmers how to be careful and what type of chemical suits to wear. This may all work if  you do as they say. However, there is always a problem with this type of help. It works good in cool  weather, but on the farm when it is 95 degrees with 60 percent humidity, you can't wear this type of  protection or you will die due to suffocation. However, everyone does use rubber gloves and other things  for protection for their face.

Everyone was very excited about the use of chemicals. Chemical companies were very cooperative  and they were coming out with new chemicals each year. Farming kept getting more and more  technical. New chemicals, were coming out each year. In about 1992, a new chemical came on the  market that would kill the most feared weed on the farm, the Morning Glory. This new chemical was  used with another chemical under the cotton seed. We were told it would keep the herbicide from killing  the cotton. Herbicides kill mainly broadleaf weeds and grass. The new chemicals were  broadleaf killers. The chemical you had to put out under the seed was an insect killer, but would, for  some reason, keep the broadleaf chemical from killing the cotton.

 Now the companies educating their dealers more about the dangers of using chemicals. The chemical  that you out under the cotton was an organophosphate, which was a very dangerous chemical. After  studying this new technology, I decided to use it in liquid form. We fixed our tractor and planter to do  this. Because it is so windy here in the spring, I didn't want to use the powder. The liquid really worked  good and was really accurate with the ration we wanted to put out.

When planting cotton, it is very important to plant the right depth. Not thinking, I was digging in the  ground behind the planter to make sure I was planting the right depth, I was digging in killer  chemicals.

My Health Dramatically Changed for the Worse
This is where my life began to change. Later, that year I noticed I was getting tired easier. Not  knowing the cause, I just thought I was getting older. Having high blood pressure, I was going to the  doctor on a regular basis and had told him about getting tired real easy. He didn't think there was any  problem.

 I kept telling my doctor that I was tired and that my feet had started causing some problems. My feet  felt like they were being stuck by needles and burning. After some time he thought I might have sugar  diabetes. They tested me in the office, but it was O.K. My feet kept hurting and burning more. I was  having trouble walking especially in fields where the ground was uneven. At night they would really hurt.  It felt like my socks rolled up under my foot, that my shoe had sand in it with a rock in the sand. It felt  like this all the time.

 I went to see another doctor. I told this doctor my problem. He said it sounded like sugar diabetes  to him. He had me checked for sugar and heavy metals. It wasn't any of these. So after some time  this doctor told me he didn't know what my problem was and wanted me to see another doctor. This  doctor checked me and he said he had no idea what was wrong with me.

 My doctor decided I should go to a neurologist. The neurologist told me it was sugar diabetes. After me  telling him it was not and why, he ran some test on me and said I had peripheral neuropathy, a dying of  the outer nervous system. This was real shocker for me, but the worst came when he told me he could  not help me and sent me back to my family doctor.

In the spring of 1996 I had changed my chemical program. I was getting worse and having more  trouble getting around. I was really getting tired during the day and at night. My foot pain and  numbness had moved up my legs about six inches above the ankles. I went on like this through the  year and in the fall I decided I was going to have to do something different. I decided to change my  type of farming operation to all grain for 1997. I decided I could do this and go to some other doctor  and maybe get well.

In the fall of 1996, at the suggestion of my state representative, Gene Copeland, I went to the Mayo  Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I spent 10 days there and a lot of tests. They took 29 vials of blood. Their  final letter said I had peripheral neuropathy and there was not cure for it. This is the same diagnosis that  the doctor in Sikeston, Missouri gave me. This seemed like my life had come to an end. If the  supposedly best doctors in the world couldn't help, then who?

The Bank Withdrew its Loans When I Got Sick
Well, my plans to only farm grain in 1997 and try to find me a doctor that could help me also went  down the drain. The man who owned the bank where I borrowed money to farm also owned most  of the land I was farming. He decided I wasn't able to farm. He took the land away from me and the  bank called the notes. This caused me to have to sell equipment and to take bankruptcy when I  didn't have land to farm and could not find the cash flow for my debts.

A Call for Change
I recently talked to the Kiwnis Club in Sikeston about my problem. Most people just don't  understand the problem with chemicals. They seem to think it will be someone else that the chemicals  will affect. I hope to keep trying to tell people what can happen if more isn't done to study the impact of  chemicals on us.

My health is getting worse as time goes on. I have been in touch with a hospital and doctor who says he  can help me. They are located in Mexico and I don't think my insurance will pay the bill. This doctor  feels sure he can help clean up my system so I will be better. Just hoping and praying that I will get well.

Up until recently, Jerry Vann farmed 3,000 acres in Arkansas. Mr. Vann would like to be in contact with other farmers who have had similar experiences to his and is working with NCAMP to ensure that these stories receive wider public attention.

8/21/01 update:

This is a update on my father Jerry Vann that has a article in your site, he has peripheral neuropathy from the organophospate that he used while farming. 

His conditions seems like it is getting worse as each day goes by, at this time he has had to leave his home and move away while they are spraying from the air the chemical that caused his illness...he has moved north about 45 miles to get away from this, he has had to leave his
home until this airial spraying for the boweevel is over, he is hoping to move back home by November. 

Mr. Vann can be reached at 573-471-4641 and the address PO Box 416 Matthews MO 63867, I'm providing this information hoping you can update your records. 

If you would like to contact him by email, you can use my email address and I will relay the message to him.

Daughter of Jerry Vann
Cheryl Vann

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