EPA review begins anew for weed-control standard
|Speak up and apply responsibly so atrazine isn’t banned by the EPA, says Kansas farmer Ken McCauley.
Ken McCauley will discuss the value of atrazine to agriculture and consumers with anyone who will listen. He hopes other farmers are equally passionate about discussing the merits of this more than 50-year-old, triazine-based herbicide, which remains the backbone of most weed-control programs in corn today. Without such conversations, McCauley fears, atrazine will not survive the relentless pressure from environmental groups who want to eliminate its use.
"Anytime I’ve had the opportunity to talk about it and how important it is, I’ve talked about it," says McCauley, who farms 4,600 acres of corn and soybeans with his son, Brad, near White Cloud in northeast Kansas.
In defense of atrazine, the former National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president has written numerous letters, given speeches to civic groups and even testified before one of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scientific Advisory Panels.
The atrazine debate has been going on for decades. The most recent formal assessment of atrazine, initiated by EPA in the 1990s, will conclude sometime this summer. However, what few farmers realize is that atrazine is about to undergo another formal EPA review, scheduled to start in 2013.
"The process typically starts nine months ahead of time, so the old assessment and the new one will essentially overlap," says Jere White, chairman of the Triazine Network, a coalition of farmers and agricultural industry leaders who strive to keep triazine herbicides available in the U.S. and subject to review by sound science. White also serves as executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association.
White says not a week goes by that he doesn’t advocate on behalf of atrazine.
Farmers must speak up on issues that affect their livelihoods, echoes Reed Rubinstein, senior counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. EPA is moving away from place-based regulations supported by science to a holistic approach, he says, which includes social issues.
This transition does not bode well for atrazine, a valuable component in roughly 60 herbicides on the market today. Atrazine improves the weed control activity of these products, either in a tank-mix application or as a prepackaged product.
Herbicide use data shows that atrazine was applied to more than 53 million acres in the U.S. in 2009, according to Mike Owen, Iowa State University Extension weed scientist.
That year, atrazine was applied to about 60% of the corn acres, 60% of the sorghum acres and 80% of the sweet corn acres.
Owen contends that atrazine is a key component of both proactive and reactive management systems for herbicide weed resistance, especially those with resistance to glyphosate.
"The number of weeds with evolved glyphosate resistance continues to mount and, more importantly, the number of fields with glyphosate-resistant weed biotypes is escalating at an increasing rate," Owen reports.
- March 2012