The battle over spending – both on crop insurance subsidies and nutrition programs – is expected to take center stage when Congress begins debating the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act next week.

But there are other, less publicized, provisions of the new, House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bill, H.R. 1947, that could be as important to how farmers produce crops as the fight over whether the federal government provides an adequate safety net for farmers and for poor families.

CropLife America, the organization that represents the major crop input suppliers, listed several of those in a letter it sent members of the House Republican Caucus, the House Agriculture Committee and the Blue Dog Caucus, a group of moderate Democrats.

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“As one of the CLA’s priority issues in the 112th Congress, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on suspension,” the June 11 letter said. “This year, the Act (H.R. 935) was reintroduced and still commands tremendous bipartisan support.

“This FARRM provision would clarify that federal law does not require water permits for otherwise regulated pesticide applications.” (Also known as Clean Water Act NPDES permits.)

Permitting system

Some background: In 2006, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA must begin a permitting system for application of pesticides over or near bodies of water. Last year, EPA began requiring applicators to obtain Clean Water Act or NPDES permits for federally registered pesticides.

“This new permit provides virtually no environmental benefit because all pesticides are already stringently evaluated and approved for proper use, including considerations for impacts to water,” the CropLife America letter said.

“The permit exposes pesticide users to citizen law suits under the CWA, and permit compliance imposes serious resource burdens on thousands of small businesses, farms, municipalities, counties, and the state and federal agencies responsible for protecting public health. Clarification is needed that neither FIFRA nor the CWA requires permits for lawful pesticide applications.”

By its own estimates, EPA says the new permitting process will require thousands of hours and millions of dollars for completing paperwork for applying pesticides that have already undergone extensive regulatory review.

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Farm organizations have also expressed concern that anti-pesticide groups would also try to use the 6th Circuit ruling to file further litigation seeking permitting for all pesticide applications over land and bodies of water.

A second important provision of the House Agriculture Committee farm bill, H.R. 1947, is legislation establishing an efficient consultation process for pesticides that meets the requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the Endangered Species Act and is not duplicative.

Under ESA, EPA is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NOAA Fisheries Service on biological opinions or biops. But neither of the services have demonstrated the level of knowledge of pesticides and their uses to issue intelligent opinions on the use of pesticides.

“This FARRM provision – Reforming Endangered Species Act Consultations for Pesticides, Title X, “Section 10012. Modification, Cancellation or Suspension on Basis of Biological Opinion” – would provide instruction to the federal agencies on engaging stakeholders and reconciling the two statutes in a manner aimed at implementing an efficient consultation process for pesticide registration and use, while maintaining species protections,” the letter said.

Wasteful lawsuits

The provision is aimed at addressing the problem of citizen lawsuits that have added nothing to the actual protection of threatened and endangered species while tying up the court system and funneling millions of dollars in legal fees to plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Real world experience suggests” this protection is being provided by EPA under FIFRA, CLA said.

FARRM also includes the following notable regulatory reform provisions: Regulatory Clarification for Imported Seed, Title 10, "Section 10014. Seed Not Pesticide or Device for Purpose of Importation."

“American farmers must have timely access to sufficient quantities of seed each planting season,” CLA said. “Seed produced in South America in the winter is delivered just-in-time for spring planting in the US. Any duplicative regulatory import requirements could delay planting.”

 

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This provision would amend FIFRA to clarify the roles of EPA and the US Department of Agriculture to ensure that unnecessary paperwork does not disrupt an adequate domestic seed supply, but does not change any other existing regulations or requirements for seed or pesticides.

All seeds are regulated by USDA. All imported seed must be accompanied by the appropriate forms required by Customs and Border Protection and USDA, allowing for electronic tracking of the shipments. EPA requires a Notice of Arrival (NOA) for all pesticides that enter the US. But, EPA officials have refused to allow entry of some seed shipments unless a separate Notice of Arrival form is presented to CBP. This duplicative, unnecessary paperwork threatens timely seed shipments, and is not appropriate or needed for seed, as it is designed for imports of commercial pesticides. The sheer volume of seasonal seed imports can quickly overwhelm the antiquated, NOA process. Even brief delays can result in delayed deliveries and plantings, and reduced yield for farmers.

 

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