Crop Protection Industry: Pollinator Health, Farm Bill Among Top Issues For 2014

From the implementation of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act III to the uncertain fate of the Farm Bill, 2013 was a year full of opportunities and challenges. As CropLife America reflects on the progress made in 2013, the association and its members consider areas of focus in 2014. In many ways, the crop protection industry still faces some of the same challenges and we, as an association, must find new means to address and resolve these ongoing issues. The new Farm Bill, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, Endangered Species Act (ESA) and pollinator health will remain as top tier concerns in 2014.

In addition to continued policy issues and new regulations, there are numerous opportunities to discuss the many benefits of modern agriculture. Agriculture has already experienced incredible change, and with the evolution of new technologies, the opportunities are endless for the future of farming. By creating positive dialogue around modern agriculture, from the way food is grown to conservation practices used on the field, policymakers are better equipped to make realistic and sound regulatory decisions.

Farm Bill

2013 marked another year of Farm Bill delays, debates, expired deadlines and continued uncertainty. The Farm Bill provides a baseline of certainty for all stakeholders engaged in farming, conservation, agribusiness and related activities while ensuring consumers reliable access to a safe and nutritious food supply. While the Farm Bill conference committee continues to meet, there is agreement over some portions of the bill, including plans to end direct payments to farmers, but significant differences remain in key areas regarding commodities and funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

Prioritizing Farm Bill policy and spending (cuts) has been made more complicated by the ongoing parallel negotiations dealing with the federal budget generally. With yet another year gone without a new Farm Bill, consumers may be affected and pay higher costs at the grocery store on common goods such as dairy, rice and corn. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack continues to drive discussions with House of Representative and Senate leaders for a resolution and notes that a Farm Bill will help bolster the U.S.’ agriculture sector which continues to drive our national economy.

Clean Water Act, NPDES Permits, ESA

Since the implementation of the Sixth Circuit Court’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA, states across the U.S. have worked to apply the various and multiple changes associated with the erroneous ruling of NPDES for certain aquatic pesticide applications. CropLife America remains committed to ultimately seeing this duplicative court ruling overturned by Congress, and removing the threat of legal liability from applying registered pesticides in accordance with the label.

To achieve this desired end, CropLife America is working with House and Senate members of the Farm Bill conference committee to include the provisions of H.R. 935, the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2013,” in the final bill. This legislation would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act to clarify Congressional intent and eliminate the requirement of NPDES permits for aquatic pesticide applications. Although a similar provision was not included in the Senate version of the Farm Bill, companion legislation (S. 802) has been introduced and receives broad bipartisan support.

The ESA continues to create a regulatory bottleneck for crop protection registration actions, placing added burden on the government, industry and the economy without providing any benefit to threatened and endangered species. ESA’s broken consultation process between the EPA and the Services (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service) has led to several lawsuits of which CropLife America has been actively engaged. In a significant step forward earlier in 2013, The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America v. EPA suit, or “mega” suit, was dismissed on motions brought by CropLife America and EPA, ending the threat to the registration of more than 380 chemicals. Despite the court’s ruling, the plaintiffs were permitted to re-file their motion. Therefore, this issue is not completely resolved but currently leans in our favor.

In April, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released the report, “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides,” which was requested by the Administration in 2011 and demonstrates the Administration’s acknowledgement that the process improvements are required for ESA consultations and FIFRA approved products. The independent report urges the Services to work more efficiently with EPA as it conducts its environmental review to create more streamlined review processes to pool the expertise of all agencies involved in ESA consultations. Currently, the suggestions outlined in NAS’s report have not been implemented and CropLife America stands ready to work closely with Congress and impacted stakeholders to build support for regulatory relief the ESA so desperately demands.

Pollinator Health

The agriculture and crop protection industries understand the importance of pollinators to a healthy agricultural system and work continuously with beekeepers, growers, researchers and regulators to address honeybee health as part of the normal pesticide registration process. Research into bee health is ongoing and has shown that numerous factors influence the health of honeybees. In fact, a report released in 2013 by the USDA and EPA, “Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honeybee Health,” notes the following factors as influencers: Parasitic Varroa mites, nutrition, lack of genetic diversity, pesticide exposure and beekeeper and farmer practices.

Earlier in 2013, the European Commission moved to significantly restrict the use of neonicotinoid insecticides. A two-year moratorium went into effect, starting this past December. A bill that would accomplish similar ends, H.R. 2692, has been introduced in the House. H.R. 2692 calls for EPA to suspend the registration of neonicotinoids until a determination has been made that these pesticides will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators. Such restrictions are unlikely to contribute to any improvement in pollinator health; neonicotinoids are thoroughly tested and monitored for potential risks to the environment and various beneficial species, including honeybees. During the registration process, EPA conducts a comprehensive evaluation of risks to pollinators and various forms of wildlife and continues to assess the risks of these and all plant protection products through its periodic review process.

In response to growing concerns about the effect of seed treatment dust on pollinators, Crop­Life America has partnered with the American Seed Trade Association to release “The Guide to Seed Treatment Stewardship.” This resource addresses the safe handling, transport, storage, planting and disposal of treated seeds, and helps growers adopt better stewardship practices to protect pollinators, the environment and applicators. Collaborative efforts such as these, coupled with ongoing research, will help continue to address the diverse factors at play in honeybee health.

Crop protection products are only one piece of the agriculture story, and CropLife America and its members strive to tell the complete story of modern agriculture each day. From our social media platforms to our collection of infographics and videos, every person working within the agricultural industry can add their voice using these resources. During the past year, CropLife America has effectively grown its Twitter presence to communicate relevant news stories, share valuable resources and balance conversations. In addition, CropLife America released reports on the benefits of seed treatments in modern agriculture; the costly side effects of duplicative ESA regulations; and the potential detrimental effects the European Union’s endocrine disruptor regulations may have on U.S. trade. CropLife America also has produced videos, infographics, posters and talking points on key issues such as pollinator health, conservation and precision agriculture.

Every person has a stake in agriculture, and with the collaboration of allied organizations and industry, our perspective on key issues can be heard. Grassroots activities, such as mobilizing letter-writing, phone calling and e-mailing campaigns; submitting op-eds to newspapers and media; and hosting forums to discuss issues and solutions, are invaluable to reach policymakers and regulators, and consistent communication on emerging science and research will bolster the efforts of the crop protection industry.

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