The large-scale agriculture that predominates in the valleys of California requires a corresponding ability to apply pesticides on a large scale, and a recent article from Western Farm Press details the new restrictions coming from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Two very important issues that impact agriculture and are guaranteed to attract a lot of media coverage this year involve hot-button controversies centered on federal environmental laws: the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.
“Addressing the Endangered Species Act, five months after EPA promised to adopt restrictions of applications for three organophosphate pesticides near the habitats of endangered salmon and steelhead species in California and three neighboring states, pesticide and grower groups are complaining that they have received very little word from the EPA about details regarding implementing the new restrictions.
“As reported in this space last year, in the first of many forthcoming biological opinions concerning 37 pesticides, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) found the registration of chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion threaten endangered salmon and steelhead and directed EPA to implement a number of restrictions on use of the three pesticides in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“In September, EPA announced it was moving ahead with implementing the restrictions. This despite the fact that manufacturers of the three products have filed suit against the NMFS opinion — claiming it was not grounded in sound science. A decision from the court is expected later this year. In mid-January, the three companies intensified their efforts by filing a petition with the U.S. EPA asking the agency to adopt transparent procedures allowing public notice and comment on decisions regarding the Endangered Species Act. The petition asks EPA to notify the public and solicit stakeholders’ input instead of seeking to amend pesticide labels unilaterally.
“Meanwhile, the EPA elected not to require the 20-foot vegetative buffers sought by NMFS in its latest round of recommendations. The service was seeking 500-foot buffers for ground applications and 1,000-foot buffers for aerial applications. EPA plans to call for variable buffers depending on the adjacent body of water, with a minimum of 100 feet.
“Industry and grower groups charge that EPA isn’t communicating with farmers about the restrictions — a change in attitude that began last January. Whether this is a result of a new presidential administration taking over is anybody’s guess. New, enforceable labels could be available as early as this spring’s growing season.
“Additionally, growers and others are concerned the restrictions will effectively ban the three pesticides in some areas and believe the restrictions need modification.
“It appears the buffers will be applied “essentially to every ditch, drain, canal and irrigation furrow that could potentially drain from the agricultural field into salmon habitat,” and because these small waterways are omnipresent, and Western specialty crop fields are relatively small, EPA’s implementation plan “looks like a virtual prohibition of use in large agricultural areas of California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho,” says Renee Pinel, CEO and president of the Western Plant Health Association (WPHA).
“With 34 more pesticides to be re-evaluated in the upcoming biological opinions pursuant to a court settlement, “the actions now being taken are setting precedents for all these decisions on restrictions of these additional pesticides yet to come,” Pinel says. The evaluation is taking place “without consultation with agriculture or any assessment of its economic impact.”
“Pinel notes that EPA has given little rationale “for planning to impose these inflexible restrictions on a hasty, litigation-driven schedule that does not allow growers to adapt.”