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CPCA's warning: Additional regulations on horizon

Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, but California Pest Control Advisers at the annual meeting of their professional organization were less than thrilled to hear still more regulatory horror stories about what awaits them in the future.

California's agriculture is already the most highly regulated in the nation if not the world. More than 900 PCAs at the 32nd annual gathering of the California Association of Pest Control Advisers heard there is still more oversight coming for the state's PCAs.

The state-licensed, college educated PCAs were praised for their role in maintaining the strength of California's $33 billion agricultural economy and protecting its 350 commercial crops from onslaught of pests. They were told how they are trusted by growers to make the right pest management decisions.

And in almost the same breath, they were told that PCA licensing requirements are about to become more strict. One speaker even suggested the new PCA requirements coming soon from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) may include taking a test annually to maintain their license. PCAs now are only required to take continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.

They were told they were going to have to do an even better job of pest management and recommend more alternatives with likely fewer tools. And they were told if they make mistakes complying with the regulatory process, it will be more costly than ever before with fines five times larger than current penalties.

They were also tantalized a bit by Peggy Lemaux from the University of California, Davis plant and microbial biology department, who is a well-respected international expert on genetic engineering for agriculture.

Lemaux has been speaking on agricultural biotechnology since 1991. This new, yet controversial issue has advanced dramatically since first introduced commercially in 1995. There are now 90 million acres of transgenic crops worldwide, and 48 million acres are in the United States.

This covers basically five crops: corn, cotton, canola, soybeans and the newest, Roundup Ready alfalfa. There is also genetic engineered squash and papaya.

Herbicide tolerance and resistance to worm pests through insertion of a Bt gene are two primary transgenic traits in the major commodity crops.

Lemaux said there are more that have been developed. However, she was not optimistic they would ever reach commercialization due to the continuing controversy swirling around transgenic crops.

Some of those include tomatoes resistant to root knot nematodes, salt tolerant crops, potatoes resistant to late blight, potatoes genetically modified to improve nitrogen uptake and the one that drew the most attention, the “enviropig,” a pig genetically engineered by Canadian scientist to emit no phosphorous in its manure. A major issue in pork production is the contamination of water by phosphorous in swine manure.

This new batch of transgenic wizardry was tantalizing because PCAs would like to have available new, more benign pest management tools to deal with future pest management challenges in the wake of new regulations coming down the road.

DPR tacitly endorsed transgenic crops when Paul Gosselin, DPR chief deputy director, suggested wider use of genetically modified crops could be a solution in meeting draconian, new stricter air quality rules to reduce fumigants.

DPR has been charged with reducing pesticide VOCs in five federally designated “non-attainment areas” of the state, including the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of California's agriculture. According to EPA, VOCs from pesticides contribute to smog. Cars and trucks are bigger contributors, but it is agricultural pesticides that are being targeted.

Gosselin said DPR will target first fumigants with proposed VOC-reduction regulations due out early next year aimed at reducing VOC losses from fumigation by injecting fumigants deeper and better tarping. There also could be regulations forcing growers and shipper who use fumigants to ship products overseas to capture exhausts from these chambers.

The PCA, said Gosselin, will have input into the final rules to help DPR direct research into reducing fumigant emissions. DPR also will be looking for PCAs to provide better documentation in their fumigant recommendations, as well as an economic analysis of fumigations.

Gosselin pledged that any future DPR action will “preserve the pest management needs” of California agriculture.

“We need your input and guidance in this process,” he said.

Gosselin said DPR has had good response from pesticide formulation in reducing VOC in products. In the 700-product recall to evaluate VOCs in pesticides, Gosselin said about half those are below current minimum VOC standards.

“This was good,” he added. DPR is meeting with other formulators to see if pesticides not in compliance can meet VOC thresholds. Rather than throw a VOC minimum over all pesticides and banning all which do not, DPR is addressing the issue on a product by product basis, evaluating the importance of each compound. This, Gosselin said, is part of DPR's commitment to maintain efficacy of key compounds that would be eliminated by blanket VOC minimum standards.

Gosselin admitted the challenges faced by agriculture and California PCAs “can seem overwhelming” with new water and air pollution rules, new enforcement rules for PCAs and food safety issues that have arisen recently.

“You have met the challenges over the years for California to continue to have the greatest food system in the world,” said Gosselin. Those past challenges have been met in collaboration with government, growers, PCAs and key legislators, which will be the same formula needed to meet VOC regulations without disrupting one of the most productive agricultural systems in the world.

The agricultural commissioner of the No. 1 agricultural county in the nation, Fresno, also had high praise for PCAs as he detailed a new set of enforcement rules that will go into effect soon, carrying fines five times more than current fines for rules violations.

Jerry Prieto, who is also president of the California agricultural commissioners association, said the new rules are the result of 18 months of negotiations with DPR which wanted stronger, uniform enforcement of its rules on the county level.

A Class A violation once carried a fine of $400 to $1,000. It will soon carry a fine of from $700 to $5,000. Similar increases are in store for lesser violations.

Prieto encouraged PCAs to be more diligent in writing recommendations. “Remember, there is no penalty for asking questions,” he said.

Spray drift has been a major issue in the San Joaquin Valley over the past few years. In the spring of '05 there were 38 complaints filed over spray draft on the west side of Fresno County. This year there were none and weather conditions were similar to '05 when it was wet and cold and many herbicide applications were delayed early on.

“We worked with growers, PCAs and applicators to come up with a program that would prevent drift and it worked great,” said Prieto, who also commended PCAs and others in Kern County for working to mitigate drift with a task force.

These are the type of proactive programs needed to head off regulatory constraints imposed by legislators and regulators, Prieto said.

Through this regulatory morass, CAPCA's Executive Director Terry Stark said CAPCA has “huge access” to DPR. “DPR trusts our opinion. They may not always tell us what they want to hear, but they listen to CAPCA.”

The Association has been engaged in discussions on DPR's efforts to change the minimum requirement for a PCA licenses. Stark said these will be issued soon.

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