Val Dolcini, the director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, spoke with Agri-Pulse this week on the 2020 regulatory outlook for the department. Dolcini shared his perspective on what farmers can expect to see with neonics, air monitoring and chlorpyrifos alternatives, among others.

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

1. A recent lawsuit by the Pesticide Action Network targeted DPR’s environmental review process. How is the department adjusting?

My thoughts on lawsuits in general is that to a certain degree, it's just something we deal with on various issues here.

This one in particular, hasn't, in my view, slowed down the registration processes for anything. In fact, we're trying to streamline the process for approving new active ingredients. We've seen in 2019, for example, more biopesticides were approved. We're trying to make some internal changes.

Lawsuits like these don't really impact the way we do business on a daily basis.

2. What are the top things farmers should be paying attention to this year?

My focus on sustainable pest management practices is certainly number one on my list. It's what I talk about whenever I travel around the state.

Just in the last couple of months, I've done half a dozen or so Spray Safe events from one corner of the state to the other. I've spoken at Farm Bureaus. I've been to environmental justice conferences. I'm going to do the Small Farm Conference. I really take every opportunity to get out and talk to people about responsible pest management.

And to me that includes chemical pesticides. That's certainly a part of the toolbox, along with biopesticides and biological controls. I saw, for example, a really interesting demonstration of the use of drones dropping beneficial insects over vineyards in San Joaquin County. There are all kinds of creative ways to manage pests that use safer alternatives.

3. What can we expect with DPR’s review of four neonicotinoids this year?

This is a really challenging one, of course, because neonicotinoids are used throughout California for a variety of different crops. We have been in reevaluation for some time now.

2020 is the year where we'll be able to do some public workshops, hopefully later this spring, to talk with Californians, commodity organizations and others about neonics and what we may do going forward on those.

Karen Morrison

DPR Assistant Director Karen Morrison, during a workshop on chlorpyrifos

4. What is on the schedule for 1,3-D this year?

1,3-D, in terms of agricultural fumigants, has been something we have spent a lot of time on at DPR over the last several years.

It is another one of those widely used ag chemicals that is used on the coast for strawberries, but also in the Central Valley for vineyards and almond orchards. We've recorded some exceedances in the Central Valley areas of Shafter, for example, and Parlier. We're going to go back and explore what we can do to mitigate the health impacts of those exceedances.

5. Will there be anything different this year for the partnership with the Air Resources Board on the AB 617 air monitoring network?

We are continuing to work closely with CARB on air monitoring issues in the valley through the network of AB 617. We've been working a lot with our sister agencies and others on that.

The air monitoring work that we do around the state through our current network of eight air monitors is really important, not only in communities like those in the Central Valley, but on the coast as well. It adds to the scientific work we're able to do in those communities and elsewhere. It gives communities a good sense that DPR is working hard to protect human health, bystander health and worker health in those communities and elsewhere.

My hope is we're going to continue and certainly build on the work we do with CARB to address issues in other areas.

Edgar Vidrio

DPR Air Program Manager Edgar Vidrio explains findings on 1,3-D.

6. Where does DPR stand on glyphosate?

It's not one we have under review or have plans to review at this point. Glyphosate is one of those tools that's widely used by both backyard gardeners and farmers around the state. It's an effective weed control device.

There are certainly options you can use in lieu of glyphosate, or Roundup in the household setting, including hand weeding and even bringing goats onto the property – that's been a good way to keep fire fuel down as well.

In my former life, coming from the Pollinator Partnership, we talked a lot about the overuse of tools like glyphosate in the backyard context and really encouraged backyard gardeners to focus more on planting native flowers and vegetables to minimize the need for chemical tools generally, and glyphosate in particular. But it's not on any lists at DPR these days.

7. What should farmers expect with chlorpyrifos, both with the cancellation and the work with alternatives?

The goal is to have the work by the Alternatives Work Group completed in the spring. We're hopeful we can get a report completed by April or May.

It's been a very successful process. We've just completed the trio of public input sessions, in Sacramento, Fresno, and Oxnard. They were well attended. We had about 300 or so folks at all of those sessions. There was clearly a lot of interest in California and hearing more about the work of the Work Group. The meetings of the work group itself in Sacramento have also been quite productive. We're really in a good place with regards to what we will ultimately see from that group.

The governor included some additional funds in his January budget for a Work Group 2.0. It's going to continue to look carefully and closely at sustainable alternatives to chemical use.

8. Any other messages to share with the ag community?

Our friends in agriculture are really important stakeholders for the department. The work we've done over the years and certainly the experiences I bring from my career are important for the department.

They're important for all the commodity groups that meet with us on a regular basis and provide new insights, observations, science in some cases, experiences, problems, pests, issues related to resistance, issues related to biological controls and biopesticides.

Ag is really at the tip of the spear in terms of innovation, and it’s a very important constituency for us. I look forward to continuing to deepen our ties with agriculture throughout California, at every level, from the big farms in the valley to small operations on the coast and everything in between.

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