Jay Vroom, recently retired president and CEO of CropLife America, challenged delegates to the Southern Crop Production Association annual conference to be alert to disruptions in the crop protection industry and to build consensus within agriculture to respond to key policy issues.
He said legislative overreach and regulation from foreign, federal and state governments; court rulings based on emotion instead of science; building relationships with legislators; and reaching out to consumers will be important to protect the industry.
In the closing general session at the 64th annual SCPA conference, held at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., Vroom said the crop protection industry will continue to deal with disruptions. “Disruptions are here to stay,” he said. “They always have been.”
It’s part of the business, he adds, and includes new product introductions, company mergers, government uncertainty, and changing trade policies. He added that new data technology “can make an impact on crop production by the square foot.” Data can change markets through new players who understand how to use it and can incorporate digital marketing strategies.
He said the CP industry will continue to feel impacts from mega mergers, new digital markets, new product innovations, a changing demand structure, and natural disasters that disrupt markets.
The demand for crop protection products will increase. “The demand for products needed by American farmers is nowhere near the peak,” he said. “Nothing will stop progress; acres will continue to be there, and productivity and quality demand will continue. Demand for better diets also continues and consumers will be willing and able to pay more.”
He said the “promise for precision agriculture” also will continue but will not displace crop protection products anytime soon. He said new technology that differentiates weeds from crop plants, in the field, and targets herbicide applications to the weeds offers promise. “But these units are slow; they just creep along.”
He said the industry should expect challenges to progress, including regulation and litigation. He said since the 1980s, a situation of “the European Union versus the rest of the world,” placed strict limitations on product acceptance. Following the mad cow scare and incidents of “tainted blood,” the EU turned to a “prevention principle, focused only on toxicity rather than risk. It did not consider exposure.”
He added that the European regulatory environment is much stricter than regulations in the United States, “but enforcement is lax. They may take a product off the market, but sometimes not those that are manufactured in the EU. U.S. regulations are reasonable, responsible and enforced.”
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Vroom said the EU “is exporting these policies to other countries.”
He said recent court cases in San Francisco and the Ninth Circuit Court illustrate the need for diligence in protecting crop protection chemistry. The San Francisco case awarded millions in damages to a plaintiff who claimed glyphosate caused his cancer. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled against chlorpyrifos registration, “regardless of science and the law.”
Vroom said these and possibly other rulings come from charges without scientific basis. He said the glyphosate ruling followed a faulty finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate was likely a carcinogen. “No other regulatory body has found glyphosate to be carcinogenic,” Vroom said. “The EU has seen the glyphosate issue as a way to chip away at GMO technology.”
He said the Endangered Species Act and Waters of the United States remain concerns for the U.S. industry.
Back to science
He said the USDA, under a new administration, will “get back to science,” in reviewing crop protection products. Risk tolerance will be a factor. He said the increased cost of regulatory compliance limits what smaller companies can do. “Larger companies are better able to afford these costs. That is a driver for consolidation.”
Vroom said the industry faces many challenges, from regulation, to unfavorable court cases, trade issues, commodity prices and weather that decreases farm profitability.
A key to managing challenges, he said, will be industry unity. “Consensus is essential,” he said. “CropLife America works on issues to find common ground. In the last 30 years, we had a rollcall vote only a few times. Those votes, he said, typically ended up with a 28 to 2 or sometimes a 30 to 0 vote after delegates examined the issues.
“Agriculture must drive toward consensus on key policies,” he said. “Division is unhealthy for agriculture.”
The internet, he said, has “brought shoe leather back to grass roots lobbying.” He explained that legislators are inundated with digital messaging that’s easy to ignore. “Back to basics, face to face relationships are more meaningful,” he said. “Legislators pay attention to their supporters.”
He said that’s why the SCPA annual “visit to The Hill” is a crucial event.
“The SCPA is a cultural anchor for the crop protection industry,” Vroom said.