IFB to EPA: Herbicide strategy brings 'significant negative impacts' to farmers


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft herbicide strategy for endangered species, if implemented, would be “disastrous” for Illinois farmers, rural communities and the food supply chain, according to Illinois Farm Bureau.

In comments filed with the agency on Oct. 20, IFB President Richard Guebert Jr. explained the organization has serious concerns with the strategy, noting it would place costly regulatory burdens on individual farming operations and jeopardize their continued viability.

“The complex, costly and cumbersome draft strategy presents significant negative impacts on Illinois farmers as it fails to quantify and recognize the vast variability in Illinois fields or provide viable mitigation options,” Guebert wrote.

Many of the same points made in IFB’s comments were echoed in comments submitted jointly by a coalition of 226 national and state agricultural groups, including IFB, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, American Farm Bureau Federation and Agricultural Retailers Association, among others.

Proposed in July, EPA’s strategy would mix population-level protections for more than 900 listed species and designated critical habitats with a range of mitigation measures — dependent on factors such as field location — to lower species’ exposure to ag chemicals caused by spray drift, runoff and erosion.

The strategy framework was released after decades of legal battles over EPA’s herbicide compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under EPA’s proposed plan, the agency would identify and start mitigating an herbicide’s possible effects on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife listed species before the agency completes ESA consultations with FWS.

Guebert, pointing to the crucial role herbicides play in an agricultural operation’s ability to manage weeds, and in turn maintain profitability, said EPA should conduct an economic analysis around the proposed strategy.

Any additional restrictions on herbicide applications could lead to yield losses and other economic pressures, which would “create uncertainty and could place operations at significant financial risk,” Guebert wrote.

He further explained how restricted use of herbicide products will: risk the proliferation of noxious and herbicide-resistant weeds; magnify pressures for specialty crop producers to find appropriate weed management products; impact the productivity of grazing pastures for livestock and leave producers with fewer options to manage conservation practices like cover crops and reduced tillage.

Issues with strategy mitigation measures

At the core of the proposed herbicide strategy is a three-step decision framework to determine the level of mitigation needed for an herbicide application.

The framework’s second step includes proposed mitigation measures for spray drift and runoff and erosion that take into account a number of factors, such as temperature, humidity, wind speed, application rate, field characteristics and in-field management practices.

And contained in the framework’s third step are four proposed pesticide use limitation areas (PULA) to determine where mitigation would be required.

IFB’s comments note the strategy’s proposed mitigation measures “are predominantly too costly, overburdensome or unattainable for Illinois producers.”

Specifically, Guebert said the mitigation “points” developed for individual crops represent an unattainable number of points for adopting certain runoff-mitigation practices, and multiple-crop operations with varying mitigation point values will create confusion among growers and product applicators.

A more flexible “point” system that recognizes cover crops and conservation practices could be developed, and training programs may also serve as a valuable mitigation measure, IFB’s comments said.

IFB’s comments further noted a suggestion in the strategy to require redirecting tile drainage water into a controlled system represents “an impossible challenge” and that changes to tile drainage should not be considered in the herbicide strategy.

Another suggested requirement that herbicide applicators provide notice weeks before an application “is not realistic as herbicide applications are applied when a specific weed is spotted,” Guebert explained.

EPA should instead develop a more flexible timeline for growers that allows them to make additional applications when noxious or herbicide-resistant weeds are identified.

Guebert also raised an issue with the strategy’s maps and the PULAs, explaining growers and herbicide applicators will likely find it difficult to or lack the ability to determine if a field is located in a PULA. They also will need to adjust products or application rates for an area, even if the PULA divides fields or other boundaries.

“In many instances, farmers will need to adjust their entire operations around PULA point requirements to streamline applications as well as costs, even if other herbicides are not subject to greater PULA-related point requirements,” Guebert wrote.

He later added the draft maps identifying PULAs show inconsistencies, wherein they list a species as present throughout a county, when the species may only be in a fraction of a county.

Determining precise spray drift buffer requirements is also “extremely complicated,” Guebert continued, noting tools like EPA’s Bulletins Live! Two interface can be inaccessible and not practical for producers operating in short windows of time to apply products.

The stated distances for spray drift buffers are immense, and in some cases, “potentially cost prohibitive” and impractical wind breaks may be required, Guebert added.

EPA’s draft herbicide strategy must further address ambiguity over who — the landowner, the farmer or the applicator — holds responsibility for verifying drift and erosion mitigation measures, Guebert wrote, explaining Illinois farms rely on retail applicators for herbicide and pesticide treatments.

There’s also a lack of clarity around which agency will be charged with verifying compliance at the state and local levels, and which statute a penalty for noncompliance with the herbicide strategy may fall under, Guebert wrote.


This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.