EPA advances ag approvals for pest protection

Agency allowing 10 pesticides for use on hemp in 2020 season and proposes new rule to reduce atrazine exposure.

December 19, 2019

6 Min Read
farmer spraying pesticides on field
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On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced two important actions that will help the agriculture sector protect crops from pests and weeds. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), EPA is approving the use of 10 pesticide products on hemp in time for the 2020 growing season. Nine of these products are biopesticides, and one is a conventional pesticide.

EPA is also issuing a proposed interim decision on atrazine, a widely used herbicide. Both actions provide regulatory certainty and clarity on how these tools can be used safely while also helping to ensure a strong and vibrant agricultural market, EPA said in a statement.

EPA is proposing new stronger protections to reduce exposure to atrazine — the next step in the registration review process required under FIFRA. Atrazine is well known and trusted by growers as one of the most effective herbicides used to control a variety of grasses and broadleaf weeds. Atrazine is used on about 75 million acres annually and is most often applied to corn, sorghum and sugarcane. (Atrazine is not one of the 10 pesticides approved for hemp.)

As part of this action, the agency is proposing a reduction to the maximum application rate for atrazine used on residential turf and other updates to the label requirements, including mandatory spray drift control measures. EPA’s proposed decision is based on the 2016 draft ecological risk assessment and the 2018 human health draft risk assessment for atrazine. EPA is also proposing updates to the requirements for propazine and simazine, which are chemically related to atrazine.

Related:EPA asked to approve hemp pesticides

EPA will be taking comment on the atrazine, propazine and simazine proposed interim decisions for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Once the Federal Register notice is published online, comments can be made to the following dockets: EPA-HQ-OPP-2013-0266 (atrazine), EPA-HQ-OPP-2013-0250 (propazine) and EPA-HQ-OPP-2013-0251 (simazine).

“We appreciate the EPA’s proposal to re-register atrazine,” said Gary Marshall, chief executive officer of the Missouri Corn Growers Assn. and chair of the Triazine Network. “This product is tremendously important to farmers across the country, especially for weed control in conservation practices. From citrus to sorghum and corn to Christmas trees, farmers rely on the agency’s use of credible science to regulate the products that allow us to safely grow more with less for a hungry global population.”

National Sorghum Producers chairman Dan Atkisson said his group “appreciates EPA applying sound science and moving forward with this key step in the reregistration process.”

Related:Consumer fear on pesticides in food unwarranted

“The impact atrazine has in weed control and making no-till production possible is as vital today as it was over 50 years ago when the product was brought to market,” Kentucky Corn Growers Assn. executive director Laura Knoth said. "For over 25 years, Kentucky Corn Growers has worked to bring production stewardship education and assistance to Kentucky’s farmers encouraging the safe use of atrazine. We appreciate the years EPA has spent reviewing and ensuring the safety and effectiveness of atrazine."

“With commonsense actions, we are protecting the health of our nation and ensuring that crops such as corn, sorghum, sugarcane and hemp can be protected against a broad spectrum of weeds and pests,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “Under the Trump Administration, the EPA is committed to providing much-needed certainty to farmers and ranchers across the country who rely on crop protection tools to ensure a global supply of products while driving economic growth in agricultural communities across America.”

Hemp applications

The first action EPA is announcing is the approval of 10 pesticide applications for use on hemp, just in time for the 2020 growing season. EPA wanted to ensure that it acted on these applications quickly to give growers certainty for next spraying season in 2020 and to make timely purchasing decisions for next year. These approvals were made possible by the 2018 farm bill, which removed hemp-derived products from Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act.

“EPA’s actions today help support American farmers’ efforts to grow hemp just in time for the first growing season,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “No other President has done more to remove strangling regulations and promote American farmers than President [Donald] Trump.”

While EPA oversees pesticide registrations for hemp under FIFRA, other federal agencies are working to streamline their separate regulatory implementation processes for the newly legalized crop. The 2018 farm bill directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a regulatory oversight program for hemp. USDA has since proposed a rule for state-level hemp growing/management plans. In addition, the Food & Drug Administration also plays a role when hemp products fall under its regulatory authority.

EPA said it is committed to working with federal partners and helping hemp growers obtain the tools needed to support and increase commercial production. The step the agency is taking today recognizes that innovation in pesticide use is critical to the success of a strong and vibrant agriculture sector.

“We’ve learned a lot about hemp since the establishment of the pilot programs in 2014, and we’re continuing our progress to ensure hemp is treated just like every other legal commodity,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said. “By approving several biopesticides for use in hemp cultivation — especially as Kentucky’s hemp farmers prepare for the 2020 growing season — Administrator Wheeler is helping deliver much-needed tools for our farmers. Hemp producers across the country are looking to Kentucky for our expertise and leadership with this exciting crop, and I’m committed to helping our farmers, processors and manufacturers take full advantage of hemp’s potential.”

Since the farm bill was signed into law last year, Kentucky hemp farmers have been asking for safe and effective crop protection agents that meet the demands of the booming hemp industry, according to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.). “These approvals will allow for the use of 10 different pesticides for the 2020 growing season, which will be of great benefit for Kentucky hemp farmers," he noted. "We know the value of hemp in Kentucky, and I will continue to fight for and support all efforts to keep this industry moving forward.”

Rep. James Comer, (R., Ky.) applauded EPA for taking critical steps to move the hemp industry in the right direction. “This action will benefit farmers in the next immediate growing season and give them the tools necessary to make their crop and operation even better than before. I am pleased to see our regulatory agencies working in a commonsense way to help our hemp growers succeed,” Comer said.

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Dr. Barbara P. Glenn said her group “thanks the EPA for taking the first step to provide crop protection for U.S. hemp farmers. Collaboration will be key as we work to provide a full tool box of solutions, including biopesticides, to the emerging hemp industry.”

In addition to today’s regulatory actions, EPA is continuing to build and enhance its relationship with the agriculture sector through the agency’s Smart Sectors program. Staff and senior leaders, including Region 5 administrator Cathy Stepp and Region 7 administrator Jim Gulliford, met with representatives from the renewable fuel industry on Thursday in Lenexa, Kan. The goal of the meeting is to provide a platform to collaborate with the renewable fuel industry and develop sensible approaches that better protect the environment and public health.

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