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Cotton Farmers Ask for Emergency Insecticide Exemption

For cotton farmers, tarnished plant bugs are a major insect pest. For that reason, they’re asking the EPA to decide more quickly on a pending Section 18 request to use Transform WG insecticide from Dow AgroSciences.

“EPA has heard from farmers and stakeholders on this important issue, yet it continues to put off making a decision,” says Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “The planting season is almost here, and our farmers need to be able to treat their crops. The agency should provide farmers with the certainty they deserve regarding this urgent request.”

Plant bugs feed on pinhead squares, which fall off the plant before maturing into cotton bolls. Lint losses of 50 to 150 lbs. per acre are common, according to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. With current commodity prices, those yield damages could exceed $90 per acre if plant bugs are left uncontrolled.

Transform WG was approved for use in 2010. In September 2015, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this approval, citing insufficient evidence from studies about bee health and the active ingredient, sulfoxaflor.

Earlier in 2016, the EPA granted Section 18 emergency use exemptions in nine southern states for Transform WG applications in sorghum to control sugarcane aphids, a serious invasive pest for that crop.

“Sugarcane aphids multiply quickly, so we need to scout early and often,” says Robert Bowling, Texas A&M University Extension entomologist. “Early applications of an insecticide with a unique mode of action will help keep those populations in check.”

In a letter to the EPA, Wicker and colleague Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) argue that the sorghum emergency use request far exceeded what they consider a “timely fashion,” taking 129 days to approve. The Mississippi cotton request stands at 60 days as of the letter’s publication on May 10, 2016.

“We strongly encourage EPA to shorten the comment period and move forward with a decision on the cotton requests as soon as possible,” they write.

According to a statement from Dow AgroSciences, the company claims four years of widespread use in the U.S., Canada, Australia and other countries has “excellent sulfoxaflor performance worldwide with no noted adverse effects on pollinators.”

Typically, the EPA allows Section 18 exemptions for “limited use of the pesticide in specific geographic areas for a finite period of time once we confirm whether the situation meets that statutory definition of "emergency condition" and conduct risk assessments.”

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