CHARLESTON, S.C. -- There are a myriad of issues facing production agriculture and the ag chemical industry "that everyone needs to be aware of, informed about, and work with the Environmental Protection Agency to solve," says Adam Sharp.
"We need for you to help us understand the problems of your industry," he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual meeting at Charleston, S.C., "but you also need to understand the work of the EPA, so we can all help to smooth the path forward for agriculture in this century."
Many organizations and government agencies are already working together on solutions, said Sharp, the associate assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. "Others represent challenges that we need to start thinking about now."
Among issues of concern to agriculture, he said, are:
• Spray drift. "A policy proposal was put forth over a year ago, and we've heard loud and clear from your industry and others that there are a lot of questions and that you couldn't support it."
With increasing movement of non-farm people into rural areas, he noted, "they see farmers on adjacent property spraying pesticides and they raise questions. Spray drift is a growing issue, we all need to be prepared to deal with it."
• Section 18 Experimental Use Permits. "We've also heard from a lot of folks, particularly with the state agencies, that there needs to be a better, more efficient system. We're going to put forth in the coming year a pilot project on Section 18 reform.
"We're going to look at doing these multi-year, as well as having more streamlined economic assessments, based on tiers, that would allow states to do a faster, more efficient job of submitting applications, and the EPA to take less time approving them."
• Aquatic use issues. "If you look at labels, there are real problems when it comes to applying pesticides to water — for mosquito control, for example. There is a fundamental issue that we may need to address, but in the short term there are court cases pushing the matter, and the EPA is going to have to come up with an opinion.
"The agency has put forward a plan that the Department of Justice drafted. Some people have seen drawbacks, so we're discussing the matter of applying pesticides to water for designated uses."
• Phase-out of methyl bromide. "Critical use applications ended in September, and we received more than 50 requests for continued emergency use. We're currently working with the USDA to review these applications, and we're planning a national/international debate next year on what should be kept as critical uses for agriculture. It's not going to be easy, but hopefully at the end of the process, we can make a determination acceptable to all parties."
• Biotechnology issues. "The EPA is a big supporter of biotechnology, and the environmental benefits they can provide. A number of products are currently moving through our regulatory process and a report from the Science Advisory Panel is due any day.
"There are products in the pipeline right now, and we need to work through these issues and problems to insure continued use of these products in the future."
• Industrial/pharmaceutical products from crops. "We're hearing a lot about the benefits to farmers from growing these industrial-type crops, but there are also challenges that come with regulating them.
"We're already actively trying to develop tests that will detect these industrial-type crops if they get into the food supply, and we need your help to determine the best ways to regulate these products."
• Endangered Species Act. "Several lawsuits have been filed dealing with the use of pesticides and whether or not the EPA properly consulted with the Interior Department on their use.
"One that covers Washington, Oregon, and California affects 55 pesticide products. The judge has ruled that we must consult with the government services on these products over the next couple of years. But the plaintiffs are also seeking relief, some kind of interim measure.
"I suspect buffer zones to the species habitat will be requested. Think of applying 100-foot to 200-foot buffer zones for these 55 widely-used pesticides to virtually every stream and body of water in the country, and you can see the potential impact.
"We're working toward solutions, using input we've received from the crop protection industry and others."
• Endocrine disrupters (disruption of reproductive processes). "A list of criteria will be available very soon, perhaps by the end of the year, to select the first group of products to go through screening."
• Security for ag chemical/fertilizer sites. "We've been given the task of developing concepts for security for these sites. There is concern about legislation that is already on Capitol hill that is not in synch with the administration's thinking. The EPA is working with the administration on its proposal.
"At the same time, we're discussing common sense issues, and we've put out several pesticide alert bulletins in the past year, and several times there has been awareness of potential threats. There were several thefts of products last year; luckily, the products were recovered, and the problem was traced back to persons who simply didn't do a good job of keep track of those products.
"The ability of your industry to keep track of these materials, to follow good storage and security practices, and to work with the authorities is more important now than ever.
"Until there is some kind of regulation developed, or law passed, it's highly important that we have your input on how we can strengthen security for these products and help you to protect your investment."