A family of farmers in North Florida is seeking answers after a field of watermelons was sprayed with damaging chemicals.
Hugh Martin told the Gainesville Sun his family is offering a $10,000 reward for information that helps lead to the arrest and conviction of the person they believe intentionally poisoned 56 acres of melons.
The family rents the property in Newberry, near Gainesville, for their farming business, Martin Farms LLC. Martin and his stepson Joshua Moore said they believe someone filled their crop-sprayer with the harsh chemicals.
On June 1, Moore said he sprayed what he thought was a tank filled with pesticides over the crops to keep insects away. As he was spraying the crops that evening, one of the sprayer’s nozzles got damaged on a fence. So he stopped before the entire field was sprayed.
When he returned to the field, the watermelons were already wilting.
“They looked like they were melted, like they didn’t have any life to them,” Moore told the newspaper.
A sample taken by a representative from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences tested positive for two types of herbicide.
The destroyed crops equate to about a half-million dollar loss, the farmers said.
Moore said the crop sprayer isn’t locked up or monitored by camera, because they’ve never had a reason to believe someone would intentionally fill their sprayer with herbicide.
“We’ve been doing this for years, and we’ve never had to put cameras around our sprayers,” Moore said. “In the future, we’ll figure out some way to lock it.”
Moore said before the incident, they farm was having “the best season they’ve had in years.” When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the family wasn’t sure how business would fare. It has remained consistent, partly because fewer melons are being shipped to Florida from places like Arizona and Mexico, he said.
The loss equates to about 90 semi-trucks of melons, a report filed with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said.
Sgt. Frank Kinsey, public information officer for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, told the newspaper that he’s only heard of physical vandalism on farms, such as people driving their trucks over crops. Chemical vandalism is a first.
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