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EPA’s chlorpyrifos revocation could cost growers millions

Ag groups urge EPA to rescind the final rule revoking tolerances and consider continued agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

October 19, 2021

5 Min Read
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More than 80 agricultural groups filed formal objections to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Aug. 30 rule to revoke all tolerances of chlorpyrifos. Stakeholders, by law, can object to pesticide tolerance changes or cancellations, and the EPA administrator must then respond.

Chlorpyrifos has more than 50 registered agricultural uses on numerous crops, many of which are high-benefit uses to protect against economically significant pests. The objection explains that the groups object to the tolerance revocation of all uses, as EPA’s own risk assessments show some uses meet the legal standard under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.

In the coalition letter, objectors from across the agriculture sector cited numerous concerns with EPA’s revocation decision, including the processes EPA used and lack of scientific basis. EPA’s own scientific record on chlorpyrifos shows there are many safe, high-benefit uses of the chemistry that do not pose a dietary or environmental risk. Regardless, the agency is opting to revoke tolerances for these safe, low-risk uses.

“Additionally, this action will leave thousands of growers across the country defenseless to devastating pests, which is why we also request that EPA stay implementation of this rule until the agency can thoroughly consider and respond to objections,” the groups write. “To lose the ability to use chlorpyrifos, as would occur through implementation of the rule, would unnecessarily result in significant and immediate economic and environmental damage.”

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall called the EPA action shortsighted, saying, “Taking care of the land and our natural resources is a top priority for farmers, and this revocation rule actually makes it harder for us to do that. EPA veered from its own scientific evidence in a decision that could be damaging to the land, to farmers and to our efforts to fight food insecurity.”

Additionally, EPA’s rule revokes tolerances on crop uses where many growers have few or no pest management alternatives, leaving them exposed to hundreds of millions of dollars in irreparable crop damage. The revocation rule would also require food holders to provide retroactively-required application documents, which could result in the destruction of millions of dollars of safe food over a paperwork issue.

“It is upsetting that EPA has revoked such an important chemistry without input from USDA or other stakeholders. Chlorpyrifos is critical to the Michigan and Wisconsin cherry industries, as there are no other products that effectively control trunk borers. With more than 4 million cherry trees, Michigan grows 75% of the total U.S. production of tart cherries and roughly 20% of the total U.S. production of sweet cherries. Without this product, our growers risk losing a lot of trees, potentially jeopardizing their family farms,” says Mike VanAgtmael, a west Michigan cherry grower and chairman of the Cherry Marketing Institute.

The comments note since fruit trees take years to reach maturity, growers who lose trees will be harmed for not just one growing season, but many years to come. Michigan State University economists estimated that a grower who loses a tree to borers would spend $180 replacing it, as well as $42 per year in lost income for the average of seven years it takes a tree to begin producing marketable fruit, ultimately costing the producer $474 in lost revenue and replacement costs for every deceased tree.

Kevin Scott, soy grower from Valley Springs, South Dakota, and American Soybean Association president says, “Chlorpyrifos is a vital tool in the soybean grower’s toolbox, one which EPA has itself said poses no food or environmental risk of concern. Without it, many farmers may have to increase the amount of alternative pesticides they apply, as there are no one-to-one replacements for several pests chlorpyrifos helps control. EPA’s action—counterproductive to the agency’s intended mission—is undermining the ability of growers to be good environmental stewards.”

Soybean growers use chlorpyrifos to control both two-spotted spider mites and soybean aphid populations that have developed resistance to other insecticides, such as pyrethroids. These pests can inflict yield losses as high as 60% if left unchecked, they comments note. “Should this rule take effect, soybean growers who face TSM and pyrethroid-resistant aphids will now have to choose between applying twice as much pesticide active ingredient (which will also significantly increase their operational costs) or face serious crop damage.”

Dan Younggren, a fifth-generation farmer from Hallock, Minnesota and president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, also expressed that concern and adds, “The use of chlorpyrifos is essential in our ability to control the sugar beet root maggot, thereby maximizing yields and ensuring stability of the U.S. food supply. Alternative chemistries, which are not as effective, will require more frequent applications and will increase GHG emissions. And, having one less chemistry in our Integrated Pest Management strategy could increase the likelihood of insecticide resistance. Without chlorpyrifos, we could experience significant yield losses of up to 45%, which would be economically devastating to our growers.”

When considering more than 140,000 acres of sugarbeets are at risk of from SBRM, U.S. sugarbeet growers could be looking at tens of millions of dollars in irreparable damages annually should this rule take effect and cost $500 in damages per acre due to the pests’ impact on yield.

EPA also has failed to conduct required interagency reviews pertaining to its decision on the rule, which are required in this case because the rule could realistically lead to well over $100 million in additional costs to the food and agriculture economy; EPA is required to conduct interagency reviews if harm could be found to total more than this threshold.

The groups are also greatly concerned with and object to EPA’s approach to existing stocks of chlorpyrifos under the rule and in additional clarification guidance as the agency has effectively not taken a position on the matter or how it expects to responsibly wind-down use of the product. It is estimated millions of gallons of the pesticide remain in storage across the country and are unlikely to be used ahead of the rule’s February 2022 implementation date.

The groups ask EPA to postpone implementation of the rule until these objections can be formally considered and addressed by the agency.



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About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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