The last two years have created unprecedented and undeniable challenges for our nation’s producers and the farm economy. Supply chain disruptions driven by COVID-19 repercussions and worsened by the war in Ukraine have created the perfect storm of record-high input prices, challenging this vital industry’s ability to maintain its reliable, safe, and affordable food supply on which this nation and much of the world depends. With all these stressors on their industry, farmers cannot shoulder the additional burden of the Environmental Protection Agency springing new, overnight restrictions on tools they need to protect crops and maintain important conservation practices.
We’ve recently seen a troubling trend emerge from the EPA of either outright ending grower access to vital tools or significantly curbing their use, often with little or no warning. These regulatory shocks have disrupted grower operations and sent farmers scrambling to find replacements at inopportune times that can make or break the year’s crop.
In mid-January, the EPA announced a new seven-year registration for the herbicides Enlist and Enlist Duo. While this action was welcomed by most growers, it created an enormous, sudden stress for others. The new registration banned use of one or both herbicides in 217 counties due to alleged endangered species concerns, effective immediately, sending corn, soybean, and cotton farmers across the Midwest into a tailspin. Just weeks away from spring planting with many having already taken delivery of herbicide and herbicide-tolerant seed they ordered and paid for months prior, producers out of the blue were told they could no longer use the products. Amid one of the worst supply chain situations in decades, these farmers rushed to find whatever alternatives they could get their hands on, often at great expense to their operations.
While the EPA eventually restored use to many of the counties affected, the financial damage inflicted on our producers could not be undone, and the challenges these abrupt EPA policies create speaks to a larger problem. In August 2021, the EPA announced that it would be revoking tolerances and ending agricultural uses for chlorpyrifos, a popular insecticide registered for use on dozens of crops. Growers still intending to use the widespread tool that growing season were left in legal limbo, unsure if they could use existing chlorpyrifos stocks, an issue on which the EPA’s final rule provided no clarity. Again, farmers were left stranded by the agency.
In recent months, the EPA has also proposed eliminating the use of or imposing significant new restrictions on tools such as dicamba, atrazine, diuron, DCPA, and others—products that are collectively used on tens of millions of acres of farmland. If the EPA were to implement these new restrictions as is permitted by current law without ample warning for our producers, our farmers’ ability to produce a crop could be significantly and irreparably hindered. Moreover, many of the conservation practices we rely on to keep agriculture sustainable, such as the use of cover crops or no-till, could be greatly impeded.
Our farmers have been asked to navigate industry-breaking challenges for the last few years, and we have a responsibility to remove obstacles that create unnecessary headaches for them where we can. Our farmers need time to adjust to new regulations issued by the EPA; our food, feed, and fiber supplies and the wellbeing of our environment depend on it. That’s why I have introduced the bipartisan Farmers Deserve Notification Act with Rep. Cindy Axne which would require the EPA to give growers at least nine months advanced notice for any new restrictions the agency plans to impose on pesticide uses. This will give producers time to seek alternatives or identify strategies to implement any new restrictions and avoid costly impacts on their harvests.
While we want to make sure our producers have ample time to implement changes, extenuating circumstances may demand quicker action which is why our bill creates an option to override the nine-month requirement with a majority vote from the independent FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel to allow such emergency restrictions to nimbly take effect.
As our farmers continue to navigate unexpected and unforeseen challenges, they should not have to worry whether regulators are going to make spur-of-the-moment changes that will harm their operations. Our growers have enough to worry about, navigating abrupt changes shouldn’t be one of them.
Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind., represents Indiana’s 4th Congressional District and serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
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