The Environmental Protection Agency is approving the first pesticides for application on industrial hemp fields and proposing to allow continued use of atrazine herbicide on corn and other crops.

Hemp growers will have nine bio pesticides and one conventional pesticide to use on that crop. Production of hemp was fully legalized under the 2018 farm bill. 

The approved pesticides are products of three companies: Agro Logistic Systems, Marrone Bio Innovations and Hawthorne Hydroponics LLC.

Separately, the agency issued a proposed interim decision on atrazine to allow the herbicide’s re-registration to move forward while implementing mitigation measures to address concerns about its environmental impact. 

“With common-sense actions, we are protecting the health of our nation and ensuring that crops such as corn, sorghum, sugar cane and hemp can be protected against a broad spectrum of weeds and pests,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. 

The actions were released in concert with a final Renewable Fuel Standard rule that implements a plan for reallocating volumes of ethanol that some small refineries were previously exempted from using. The plan angered industry groups and farmers because the reallocation volumes were to be based on Department of Energy recommendations for waivers, not the larger amounts that EPA actually exempted. 

Under the atrazine decision, EPA will continue working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to assess the impact on threatened and endangered species before completing the re-registration process. EPA will also finish endocrine screening of the herbicide for its impact on reproductive health. 

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Gary Marshall, CEO of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, applauded the atrazine decision, saying it would preserve a valuable chemical that is particularly effective against weeds that are resistant to glyphosate and other herbicides. Replacing atrazine would increase farmers’ costs by $30 an acre, he said. 

“We felt it was extremely important for the EPA to follow the science, and we believe that they have now,” Marshall said. 

The Environmental Working Group criticized the EPA action, alleging that it will weaken safeguards for children’s health and the environment and allow 50 percent more atrazine to get into U.S. waterways. 

“Restricting the spraying of atrazine is essential for protecting human health,” said Olga Naidenko, the EWG's vice president for science investigations. “Instead, the Trump EPA’s proposal would increase atrazine discharges, endangering children’s health and harming communities."

The agency will be taking public comment for 60 days. Marshall said he expects EPA to issue its final determination by next summer. 

Atrazine products are used most widely on corn, sorghum, and sugarcane but also are registered for use on wheat, guava, macadamia nuts and range grasses. 

EPA announced last month that it would increase level of atrazine allowed in waterways before mitigation is required. The agency determined that the “Community Equivalent – Level of Concern” for atrazine should be 15 parts per billion.

The current level is 10 ppb as a 60-day average concentration, which “ensures that atrazine levels will not cause significant changes in aquatic plant community structure, function and productivity,” the agency said. Above that level of concern, atrazine registrants will have to carry out watershed-based mitigation in concert with state or local watershed programs to reduce atrazine exposure. 

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