Leaders of the American Soybean Association (ASA), the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the National Sorghum Producers (NSP), USA Rice Federation, and National Cotton Council have met with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack at EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss recent court and EPA actions.

“ASA is concerned by recent court and EPA actions that could negatively affect U.S. farmers’ competitiveness, hinder their ability to produce safe and abundant food, add needless regulation, and expose farmers to increased liability,” said Johnny Dodson, ASA chairman and soybean producer from Halls, Tenn.

The meeting was a result of discussions by ASA, NCGA, NAWG and NSP leaders with Secretary Vilsack at the Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Cal., in March. In response to that discussion, Secretary Vilsack offered to put together a meeting of commodity group leaders with EPA Administrator Jackson and himself to further explore the concerns being expressed. Leaders representing the nation’s cotton and rice farmers also participated in the meeting to collectively express concerns on issues that would impact more than 90 percent of the crop planted area in the United States.

During the meeting, much of the discussion focused on two areas — proposed language for spray drift regulations and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (National Cotton Council vs. EPA) that held that agricultural pesticide applicators, state pest controllers and others who spray pesticides on or near water will no longer be exempted from having to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, even if they follow all label and application requirements. EPA estimates that the ruling will apply to some 5.6 million annual pesticide applications for 365,000 applicators. The court granted EPA a two-year stay until April 2011, to give it time to develop a permitting program. EPA is expected to propose a rule in April 2010, and finalize it in December 2010.

Eddie Smith, NCC Chairman, said during the meeting he was able to convey how important the NPDES issue is to cotton and its potential to adversely affect cotton producers, including imposing additional costs.

“We were reassured by EPA Administrator Jackson that wasn’t EPA’s intent and they were emphatic … that it would be a very narrow permit process and that production agriculture probably would be exempt from this permitting,” said Smith. “She also was very open to discussion on the spray drift regulation proposal and the importance of that regulation’s wording.”

For more on NCC v EPA, see http://deltafarmpress.com/legislative/pesticide-permits-clean-water-act-0303/index.html

The ASA “believes that EPA must take great care in crafting a rule to minimize needless regulation and avoid forcing farmers to obtain permits for applying fully-approved crop protection products according to label directions,” said Dodson. “Adding new regulatory and permitting steps would decrease the ability of U.S. farmers to produce safe and abundant food. This entire direction taken by the court also opens up the possibility that producers would incur huge costs defending against nuisance citizen suits.” Darrin Ihnen, National Corn Growers Association President, characterized the meeting as both a rare opportunity and a clear sign that high ranking federal officials are interesting in learning about growers’ concerns. He went on to explain that these newly opened lines of communication can directly affect policies that impact growers on their own farms.

“Agricultural leadership was in front of two cabinet level positions at the same time,” said Ihnen. “That shows some seriousness from their end and that they do want to hear from and better understand agriculture.”

“I think everything about this meeting was positive,” said Gerald Simonsen, NSP Chairman of the Board. “It really opened the dialogue with our group and both Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Jackson seemed willing, anxious and eager to talk with us about issues that are affecting our farmers right now.”

On the pesticide issue, ASA pointed out EPA’s proposed regulation would add new language to pesticide labels. Current pesticide labels include the statement, “Do not apply this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift.” The EPA’s Draft Pesticide Registration Notice of Nov. 4, 2009, would add new language to pesticide labels stating, “In addition, do not apply this product in a manner that results in spray [or dust] drift that could cause an adverse effect to people or any other non-target organism or site.”

The EPA “should maintain FIFRA’s risk-based standard of ‘no unreasonable adverse effects’ and remove the vague, unenforceable, and unmanageable concepts of ‘could cause’ or ‘may cause’ adverse effects or ‘harm’ from the Drift Pesticide Registration Notice,” said Dodson. “The agency should also continue to acknowledge that some small level of pesticide drift is unavoidable in many common application situations, and does not pose an unreasonable adverse effect.”

A final key topic discussed was the pesticide re-registration and review process carried out by EPA.

“ASA and the agricultural industry strongly believe that the process must be governed by sound science, including science-based assessments and decisions,” said Dodson. “Additionally, there must be certainty that once a science-based review is completed, another review won’t be arbitrarily initiated. Farmers and the crop protection industry need increased confidence and certainty that the re-registration process and decision-making will be based on peer-reviewed science.”

The NCC’s Smith said Secretary Vilsack conveyed his desire for USDA and EPA to have continued discussions with the commodity organizations through smaller working groups to focus on key environmental issues.

“It was a privilege to participate in this unprecedented meeting and I’m encouraged that there are plans for the Council and other major commodity groups to continue the dialogue with these two agencies on issues of critical concern to production agriculture,” Smith said.