EPA announces voluntary program aimed at curbing pesticide drift

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2014 - The Environmental Protection Agency today announced a voluntary program aimed at showing applicators which products should be used to promote drift reduction during pesticide application.

The Drift Reduction Technology (DRT) program will recognize products that can reduce drift by at least 25 percent. An EPA-assigned star-rating system will recognize the degree to which these products can reduce pesticide drift, up to four stars.

Jim Jones, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said state and local agencies receive “thousands” of drift-related complaints every year, and this program will be an easy way for farmers to recognize ways to keep their product on their fields.

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“Our new star-rating system of products and technologies will help farmers reduce drift, protect neighbors and reduce costs by keeping more of the pesticide on the crop,” Jones said in an EPA release. “We hope the new voluntary DRT will encourage the manufacture, marketing and use of safer spray technology and equipment scientifically proven to reduce pesticide drift.”

EPA says between 1-10 percent of pesticides are lost every year to drift, which accounts for about 70 million pounds of pesticides valued up to $640 million. State agencies also use resources to investigate drift claims, so the total amount of money lost to drift annually could be much higher than $640 million in product loss.

DRT will be a voluntary program encouraging manufacturers to study products such as spray nozzles, spray shields, and drift reduction chemicals and test their potential for drift reduction. Questions remain about the testing of the products since EPA workers will be receiving company data rather than conducting the testing themselves, but the EPA does allude to testing protocols on its website.

Mike Leggett, CropLife America senior director of environmental policy, said he is “optimistic about the program” and says it is a way for companies to be recognized for work already being done to reduce drift.

“There has been a great deal of scientific investigation directed at understanding what factors are most influential in the off-target movement of spray applications, and many manufacturers are incorporating this knowledge to innovations in spray application technology that will minimize drift potential,” Leggett said in an email to Agri-Pulse. “The DRT program provides a means of recognizing the benefit from adoption of those technologies.  It is an important milestone for EPA, and we hope that it will continue to evolve and improve as the program matures.”

American Retailers Association President and CEO Daren Coppock said the goal of this program is a one shared by ARA's members.

“EPA's Drift Reduction proposal has evolved and improved greatly from its beginning, and off-target spray drift is certainly something that our members want to prevent as much as possible,” Coppock said in an email to Agri-Pulse. “Crop protection products perform an essential role in environmentally responsible food production, and our industry is always working to improve how we use them.”

Coppock said “it will be interesting to see how EPA uses (DRT) in label negotiations with registrants.” Although the voluntary program is meant to advise applicators of the safest products to avoid drift, Coppock said “the primary burden of complying with label requirements that are added because of DRT will fall directly on applicators.”

ARA is hopeful the program will be able to analyze many products in each category. For instance, if the EPA gives a four-star rating to one brand of spray nozzle but fails to properly analyze and announce ratings for other brands, it could put those without a rating at a competitive disadvantage.

Drift occurs in virtually every pesticide application, according to the Clemson University Cooperative Extension service. The degree to which drift occurs depends on factors such as “the formulation of the material applied, how the material is applied, the volume used, prevailing weather conditions at the time of application, and the size of the application job,” the service said on its website.

EPA says it hopes the program will “move the agricultural sector toward the widespread use of low-drift technologies” and that stars could appear on pesticide labels as early as fall 2015. Before ratings can be placed on labels, EPA needs to collect and analyze company data, assign a rating for those products, and inform the company of the rating so product packaging can be changed.

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