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EPA Looks for Farmer Feedback
By Emily Unglesbee
Wednesday, May 18, 2022 7:44AM CDT

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- The future of pesticide labels is undergoing active construction at EPA, and farmers, pesticide applicators and other ag stakeholders may have an opportunity to influence that work.

In short, EPA is tackling a long overdue project to make pesticide labels that fully comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), in an effort to stem a raft of lawsuits that has bogged the agency down in federal courts, trying to defend its pesticide registrations. That means labels and registrations will include mitigations and restrictions designed to protect certain endangered species and critical habitats that the agency identifies as at risk from pesticide use.

Many ag stakeholders are nervous to see what these new, ESA-compliant pesticide labels might look like, especially after the debut of new Enlist herbicide labels in January took many off guard with dozens of banned counties. (See more on that here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…).

EPA recently rolled out a work plan, designed to explain just how the agency will go about making these new, ESA-compliant labels. You can read the whole thing here: https://www.epa.gov/….

But for a quicker read, here are the top three things to know -- how farmers get a say, what pesticides are the first to be affected and how you can stay tuned to the process.

FARMERS AND OTHER AG STAKEHOLDERS GET A SAY

EPA is especially interested in farmer and other pesticide users' feedback on what "ESA-compliant" labels look like, said Jan Matuszko, EPA's acting director of the Environmental Fate and Effects Division (EFED).

"Your input is the key to our ability to identify practical yet effective mitigations that folks on the ground can actually implement," Matuszko told listeners on a May 16 webinar, designed to explain the EPA's ESA work plan and its impact on growers.

Already, EPA has received lots of feedback that county-level bans on entire pesticides, such as were issued with the Enlist herbicides, are deeply unpopular and viewed as impractical and overly harsh by the farming community. Most of the initially banned counties were eventually put back on the Enlist labels after new data was presented to the agency. But the experience has left some farmers feeling vulnerable to losing pesticide access.

To avoid future label requirements like that, EPA is exploring ways for farmers to "offset" any harm to endangered species by their pesticide use. That could mean building or maintaining additional habitat for listed species, Matuszko said.

That's a big change from how EPA pesticide use requirements have worked in the past, and the agency is still figuring out if it is legal and how it would be implemented, added Jake Li, deputy assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs. But for now, the agency is interested in pilot projects with ag chem companies and farmers to determine whether or not this is a feasible ESA mitigation option, he said.

"What we're hoping through a pilot project ... is to demonstrate how all of that plays out in real life and we are also hoping in [the] not-too-distant future to actually put some of this down on paper so that you all can see what that process looks like [and] what are the standards are," he explained.

Other pilot projects are getting underway, as well, Matuszko said. They will allow EPA to see how certain current farm practices, such as buffer strips or cover crops, help mitigate pesticide run-off and risks to nearby endangered species. (Some of these practices are already listed as runoff prevention requirements on the new Enlist herbicide labels. See page 4 of the label here: https://www.cdms.net/…).

The agency hopes to have a website listing those pilot projects and giving the ag community information on how to participate soon. "Stay tuned," Matuszko said.

WHICH PESTICIDES WILL BE AFFECTED FIRST?

EPA is struggling with its workload, officials admitted.

"We have an enormous backlog of past, current and future regulatory decisions that require ESA compliance and not enough resources or processes to meet the requirements all at once," Li explained. "So that is why under the work plan we describe for the first time what we can do with our resources and just as importantly, what we're not going to get around to doing immediately."

First up?

"Our highest priority is to meet litigation-related commitments," Matuszko explained. That means the EPA will first work on meeting "court-committed" deadlines for ESA-compliant labels for 18 pesticides, listed on page 68 of its work plan.

They include common ag pesticides such as atrazine, glyphosate, and neonicotinoids. Expect to see labels with new ESA requirements for these pesticides first.

EPA's next highest priority for ESA-compliant labels are new active ingredients. As of January 2022, no active ingredient will be registered by the agency without going through a full ESA evaluation. For more details on what that process looks like, see this DTN story: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Finally, as EPA cycles every pesticide through its routine, 15-year registration review, it will begin the task of evaluating each one for effects on endangered species, Matuszko said. That means, ultimately, all pesticides will go through this.

HOW FARMERS CAN GET THEIR FEEDBACK TO EPA

EPA has been hosting webinars and listening sessions on its pesticide work for the Endangered Species Act. The webinars have fielded more than 200 listeners each so far, many of them from the ag community, who were free to comment and ask questions. See one from January here: https://www.epa.gov/… and watch for the posting of the May 16 one here: https://www.epa.gov/….

Farmers can also get feedback to EPA on its pesticide work via their state regulators, found here in the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials: https://aapco.org/….

EPA also publishes its various pesticide registration decisions -- including ESA actions -- in the Federal Register and accepts public comment on them, said Elissa Reaves, director of EPA's Pesticide Re-Evaluation Division. Farmers can keep up to date with these publications by subscribing to the agency's Office of Pesticide Programs' news alerts here: https://www.epa.gov/….

Finally, the USDA's Office of Pest Management Policy accepts feedback here: https://www.usda.gov/…, and the Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee holds regular meetings that welcome public participation on many issues, including EPA's pesticide work. See more here: https://www.epa.gov/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee


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