EPA announces interim decision on crop protection tools

Administrator Wheeler holds agricultural roundtable discussion with Missouri farmers.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

September 18, 2020

5 Min Read
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Missouri Corn Growers

At a roundtable Friday in Niangua, Mo., with U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.) and Jason Smith (R., Mo.) and farmers from the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Corn Growers Assn., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler highlighted efforts to provide certainty and predictability to the agricultural community. As part of the event, Wheeler announced the interim decisions for atrazine, propazine and simazine, which finalize measures to protect human health, mitigate potential ecological risks and continue to provide America’s farmers with the valuable tools they have come to rely on to control weeds in crops.

“The benefits of atrazine in agriculture are high, so these new protections give our nation’s farmers more clarity and certainty concerning proper use,” Wheeler said.

According to the Triazine Network, a coalition of agricultural organizations advocating for science-based regulatory decisions, this interim decision is a major milestone.

“Today’s news provides much-needed regulatory certainty for farmers during a time when few things are certain,” said Missouri Corn Growers Assn. chief executive officer Gary Marshall, who chairs the Triazine Network. “We appreciate today’s announcement from EPA Administrator Wheeler. We thank the agency on behalf of the farmers who rely on atrazine to fight problematic weeds and employ conservation tillage methods to reduce soil erosion and improve water and wildlife habitat. “

Atrazine ranks second in widely used herbicides that help farmers control weeds that rob crops of water and nutrients. Utilized for more than 60 years, atrazine is the most-researched herbicide in history and has a proven safety record, the Triazine Network stated. The announcement concludes the registration review process where EPA is required to periodically re-evaluate existing pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The next step for the triazines is a draft biological evaluation required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is expected to be published in October.

“This isn’t the last review of atrazine. In fact, the Endangered Species Act review will be key to the future of atrazine as well as other crop protection tools. Moving forward, we remain vigilant in ensuring the agencies involved utilize high-quality, scientific studies,” Marshall stated. “The EPA has said they will utilize the best available research, first in a letter to the Triazine Network in 2019 and again today. Our stance has always been sound, credible science must win. We appreciate these commitments, and EPA must hold true to them in the ESA evaluation.”

After a thorough review of the best available science and carefully considering scientific peer review and public comments, EPA has determined that certain mitigation measures are warranted for these three herbicides in order to address potential human health and ecological risk. Specifically, the agency is requiring the following mitigation measures:

  • Reduce the maximum application rate for atrazine and simazine when used on residential turf in order to protect children who crawl or play on treated grass;

  • Add a requirement for irrigation immediately after simazine application to residential turf;

  • Require additional personal protective equipment for workers who apply atrazine and simazine to reduce occupational risks associated with certain uses;

  • Finalize label requirements for all three triazines to include mandatory spray drift control measures to minimize pesticide drift into non-target areas, including water bodies, and

  • Finalize label directions for herbicide resistance to reduce the problem of weeds becoming resistant to atrazine.

“EPA is using sound science to make decisions that protect children and workers, provide predictability and flexibility for our agricultural producers and protect the environment,” Missouri Department of Natural Resources director Carol Comer said. “These new measures allow farmers to be productive while following valuable guidelines that mitigate risks to human and aquatic life.”

Atrazine, propazine and simazine are widely used in the U.S. to control a variety of grasses and broadleaf weeds. Atrazine is an especially effective, affordable and well-studied herbicide. Twelve meetings of the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel were held to discuss various aspects of atrazine, including cancer and non-cancer effects, potential effects on amphibians, the aquatic plant community level of concern and surface water monitoring methods. As the second most widely used herbicide in the U.S., atrazine is applied on about 75 million acres of agricultural cropland every year, including more than half of the nation’s corn crop. Atrazine is also used on residential lawns and golf courses, particularly in the Southeast.

Approved for use 1958, atrazine has been extensively reviewed by EPA and others over the decades and across administrations. For the triazines, EPA will next complete draft biological evaluations for atrazine, simazine and propazine, which are anticipated to be available for public comment late this fall. These evaluations are the first step in the interagency consultation process to protect listed species and their habitats under the ESA. Final ESA determinations for each of the triazines are anticipated in 2021.

The final ESA assessment is slated to be released in 2021.

In addition to Hartzler, Smith, Wheeler and EPA regional administrator Gulliford, roundtable participants included Comer, Missouri House Majority Caucus chair Sonya Anderson, Missouri state Reps. Mike Bernskoetter, Hannah Kelly, Jeff Knight and Mike Stephens, Arkansas Department of Energy & Environment secretary Becky Keogh and members of the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Corn Growers Assn. and Kansas Corn Growers Assn.

During the roundtable, they discussed issues of importance including the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which is providing regulatory certainty for farmers across the country, and the Farm, Ranch & Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee, which met for the first time last week.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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