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Corn+Soybean Digest

Farmers Speak Out in Support of Atrazine

Farm groups traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to voice support for atrazine before the third in a series of hearings being held by the U.S. EPA to re-review the critically effective herbicide.

Among those testifying were Jere White, chairman of the Triazine Network and director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association; Laura Knoth, the executive director of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association; and Richard Fawcett, of Fawcett Consulting, who shared his expertise in weed science and critical yield gains atrazine provides farmers.

Noting that atrazine has been more extensively studied than any other crop protection product and has continually been awarded a clean bill of health, Jere White commented that growers often ask him, "When is enough enough?"

It was only in 2006, after all, after an extensive 12-year review, that EPA concluded that the triazine herbicides, including atrazine, pose "no harm" to the general population, including women and infants. It wasn't until "The New York Times and Huffington Post supplied their version of 'peer review' of an NRDC report to certain political appointees at EPA," says White, that EPA hastily convened this unnecessary re-review.

White questioned whether this extraordinary break with standard EPA procedures violates FIFRA standards, and highlighted the enormous burden of material the independent scientists have been asked to digest in a relatively short period of time due to the compressed schedule. As White noted, "...though the average number of studies submitted for SAP review per session number around 15, EPA has generously provided you with 123."

Given that scientific bodies around the world have determined that atrazine is safe to use, and extensive monitoring shows that levels in raw and finished water are steadily declining, White questioned the need for this EPA's "politically driven second guessing." He ended by expressing the hope that the high standards of scientific objectivity that enabled the EPA to register atrazine as safe in the past would continue to prevail at the agency.

Laura Knoth outlined the profoundly beneficial effects of atrazine to the environment, especially as a result of no-till and low-till agriculture. By 2008, Knoth noted, "atrazine was applied to 60% of conservation tillage and no-till corn acres." Without such effective weed control, the result would be a massive increase in erosion, "estimated to be more than 300 billion pounds annually." Sediment has been identified by both the USDA and by individual states as the leading source of water pollution in our nation today.

Atrazine-enabled no-till agriculture also reduces the use (and expense) of fossil fuels to power tractors for field cultivation and keeps crucial nutrients in the soil.

On top of the extraordinary environmental benefits, Richard Fawcett emphasized the critical importance of atrazine to farmers' bottom line. Analysis of data from two different decades starting in the 1980s and in the 1990s, showed a very similar – and impressive – boost in yields in both eras. Average yield gains with atrazine from 1986 to 2005 in university field trials were 5.7 bu./acre compared to alternative herbicides.

EPA itself has estimated that farming without atrazine would cost corn growers $28/acre in reduced yields and higher costs for less-effective substitutes.

The voice of the farm community was clear: atrazine is safe, it's effective, it's essential to the environment and it's critical to our bottom line. Sound science, sound economics and sound environmental stewardship would all tell the EPA one thing: Leave atrazine alone so American farmers can get on with the business of feeding the world.

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