(WSVN) - A South Florida farmer loves his fruit trees, but when a fellow farmer started spraying an herbicide, the spray blew onto his trees, killing some fruit. If a neighbor sprays your crops or even your yard, are they responsible for the damage? Let’s bring in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Most people have a job. Many people have a hobby. Very few are the same.

Jose Rodriguez: “I pretty much enjoy farming, and that is my hobby, and that’s my work.”

When Jose Rodriguez retired, he was able to turn his attention to his South Dade farm to grow what he likes: avocados, bananas and his favorite, lychee fruit.

Jose Rodriguez: “I loved it so much that I said, ‘Someday I’m going to have enough lychees that I can eat them to my heart’s content.”

Last season he had plenty to enjoy.

Then there is this year.

Jose Rodriguez: “This is like the monkeypox of the plant world. This is what happens when they spray it with herbicide.”

Back in March, Jose said, his next-door neighbor was spraying an herbicide on his field.

Jose Rodriguez: “The wind was blowing in excess of 35 miles an hour, and in Dade County, you’re not supposed to spray or do anything when the wind is beyond 12 miles an hour.”

When Jose saw the spray, which was created to kill weeds, hitting his trees, he tried to stop it, but the damage was done near the fence line.

Jose Rodriguez: “When they did that, all the fruit fell off the trees, and when the trees get damaged by the herbicide like that, they get diseases.”

Jose filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Jose Rodriguez: “He came out here, he’s telling me, ‘Oh, I definitely see damage,’ but then, when you read the documentation, he says no damage at all.”

The state official wrote, “No indication of herbicide damage was visible along either property fence line,” stunning Jose.

Jose Rodriguez: “You lose all hope and faith in the system, because they’re not cooperating with the little guy.”

The trees farther from the fence line are OK, but Jose says, the fruit lost from the ones near his neighbor’s property would have brought him about $6,000. Money he could have used.

Jose Rodriguez: “So I’m literally screwed. I lost everything, and I have no alternative to have any extra income or enjoy my fruit.”

Well, Howard, if someone spraying is accused of damaging your crops or your yard, are they responsible?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Yes, they are responsible, but the state did not find any damage. Even if they did, getting compensated is a long shot, because the state agricultural department can’t force them to reimburse you, and in a case like this, where the damage was about $6,000, you would have to hire your own expert and a lawyer, and it’s just not worth it.”

The people involved in the spraying wouldn’t return our calls.

We contacted the state agriculture department regarding Jose’s complaint about his crop damage.

A spokesperson wrote, “The department did complete its investigation, which did not indicate any herbicide damage nor identify any violations.”

From the believe-it-or-not category, a few months after Jose’s complaint, he says his neighbor was spraying his field again.

Jose Rodriguez: “I’m out there taking pictures, and they come up here and start harassing me and insulting me.”

Jose said he didn’t notify the state since he assumed it would be a waste of his time.

Jose Rodriguez: “These are starting to come back a little bit; they might make it.”

Instead he is focused on his trees — the ones that will make it and the ones that won’t.

Jose Rodriguez: “I have some further down that are even more delicate. They’re not coming back.”

Ouch. When you lose the trees that are not only your hobby, but a source of income, it’s a double blow. Good luck in the future, Jose.

A problem poisoning your life? Don’t see a solution blossoming soon? Plant the headache with us and see if we can get it to bear fruit.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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