Gov. Gavin Newsom struck a landmark deal last year with water interests over a set of voluntary agreements that promise to quell a regulatory battle that has simmered for decades. Now the administration is taking a similar approach to pesticides, drafting an ambitious plan with agricultural stakeholders at the table alongside environmental justice advocates.

Unlike the grand compromise over Delta flows, however, the pesticide plan carries no financial or legal commitments. With the state facing a budget deficit, officials are quick to point out the pesticide “roadmap” is simply a set of recommendations the state can choose to implement—though the underlining goal of prohibiting the use of many controversial pesticides by 2050 has left farm groups uneasy.

The administration and several members of the multistakeholder task force that developed the recommendations claim the endeavor has already brought value far beyond any policy actions that may result.

“My hope is that this doesn't become a report on the shelf,” said Chris Geiger, who led San Francisco’s pest control efforts while active in the work group and spoke at a recent press conference on the roadmap. “I don't think it will. We have the institutional commitment here and we saw it during the work group.”

During most of the 18 months of work group meetings, Taylor Roschen represented the California Farm Bureau as a policy advocate; she now represents a variety of agricultural organizations at the lobbying firm Kahn, Soares & Conway. Roschen told the State Board of Food and Agriculture last week the extensive effort she invested in the discussions has been a great experience.

“I walked away feeling healthier and happier because of it. That's a testimony to the work that CDFA and DPR [the Department of Pesticide Regulation] did to bring all these interests together,” she said. “The work has just started. I look forward to managing this for the rest of my career in agriculture.”

Chris GeigerChris Geiger, San Francisco pest management

Roschen explained that farm advocacy in Sacramento is typically a zero-sum game—picking winners and losers, making hard decisions and compromising when possible. While the early roadmap conversations began as somewhat combative—since the group was grappling with a new paradigm shift and multidecadal changes—she saw hopeful signs in members ultimately agreeing that the state should not remove pest control tools without alternatives in place and that no one wants to put farms out of business.

Yet California Farm Bureau Administrator Jim Houston told Agri-Pulse the process for the work group did not encourage all participants to speak freely and have their voices heard.

“I hope it does [sit on the shelf],” he said, as he dismissed the report as “just a smokescreen” to justify removing more products.

Roschen and others emphasized that the power of the roadmap grew from the parties coming together on a set of recommendations that each could live with.

“Should this document get put on the shelf and start collecting dust, the last two years alone will have a lasting impact,” Margaret Lloyd, a University of California small farms advisor, told the board. “We built relationships. The workgroup members, many of whom will be involved in its implementation, are changed.”

According to DPR Director Julie Henderson, the roadmap’s top priorities are pest prevention, coordinating state leadership, and bolstering research, education and outreach.

Yet Lloyd pointed out that just 15% of the budget for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is currently dedicated to integrated pest management (IPM)—a pillar of the roadmap—and the university would have to increase the number of positions by at least 20% to revitalize its long-term research initiatives to support the sweeping industry transition. UC ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston, who serves on the board, added that the division is committed to “up our game as much as we can” and clarified that IPM efforts extend well beyond the 15% of staff specifically listed for it, adding that even drones and robotics help to reduce pesticide inputs.

One farmer was frustrated that just 25 people would decide the future of pest control for the next 27 years and that definitions in the roadmap, such as for highly hazardous formulations and priority pesticides, were too open-ended and poorly defined.

“To put this document in perspective, this is a roadmap. This is not state law,” responded Henderson, who asserted the recommendations were “pretty comprehensive.”

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She also noted that the roadmap calls on the state to develop a plan and funding mechanisms by 2025.

Another challenge was that the work group parties agreed pesticide policies must be grounded in science. Roschen explained the group has not resolved which science that would be.

“We have different perspectives amongst the workgroup of what is the right kind of science to incorporate,” she said. “Is it traditional knowledge, ecological knowledge? Is it publicly funded research? Is it privately funded research? We had a diversity of opinions on all of that.”

Doug Johnson, who directs the California Invasive Plant Council, said people often read something online about pesticides or see a court case and believe “it’s going to be the end of civilization.”

“We find in our work, where herbicides can be controversial, that there isn't always a common understanding of the science behind the impacts of pesticides,” said Johnson.

Board member Eric Holst, associate vice president of the working lands program at the Environmental Defense Fund, argued the federal government has a big role to play in pesticide registration and management—one that Holst said does not work particularly well. EPA, however, was not involved with the work group.

DPR has scheduled webinars on Feb. 28 and March 21 to solicit further public feedback on the roadmap.

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