EPA's Atrazine Report Could Lead to 'De Facto Ban'

Farm groups say they are extremely concerned that EPA’s recent report on atrazine could severely limit farmers’ ability to use the herbicide.

In an ecological risk assessment released June 2, EPA said the chemical was putting fish, frogs, plants and aquatic invertebrates at risk, particularly in areas where atrazine is most heavily used.

The report immediately caused controversy among farm groups, who criticized both the process and the findings of the report.  “Atrazine is one of the most studied pesticides farmers have,” said Ethan Mathews, director of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association. “There are 7,000 studies pointing to its safety and efficacy.”

But you’d never know that from reading EPA’s report. “It really paints a dire picture and is very different from what studies have shown previously about atrazine’s presence in the environment,” Mathews said.

Such conclusions, if they are adopted by EPA, could have dramatic effects on growers’ weed management options. Atrazine is the second-most commonly applied herbicide in the U.S., with farmers applying an estimated 72 million pounds of the chemical annually to kill and control weeds in corn, sorghum and sugarcane.

The report “set a level of (acceptable environmental exposure) that is so low for parts of the country that farmers will not be able to use atrazine,” Mathews said. “…We’re talking tens of millions of acres that will no longer be able to use this product, so you are looking at a de facto ban.”

Unfortunately for farmers, alternatives are slim. Registered in 1958, atrazine is commonly used.

“Atrazine is a product that is used in a lot of different herbicide mixes, and the reason why is that it is one of the most effective herbicides that we have for controlling weeds,” Matthews said. “Herbicide resistance in weeds is already a big issue. When you take away a product that has been effective as atrazine, you just exacerbate this issue.”

Developing a new active ingredient for crop protection typically takes about 10 years and costs about $250 million, according to Bayer, which is battling with EPA over the safety of its pesticide flubendiamide.  

When will farmers find out the fate of atrazine? According to Mathews, EPA will likely announce its decision in 2017, but farmers have until August 5, 2016, to comment on the proposal.  

To hear Mathews' full comments, listen to the AgriTalk show below. The interview with Mathews begins around the 12-minute mark.

NCGA's Ethan Mathews Discusses What EPA's Atrazine Report Might Mean For Farmers


Want more great radio news? Listen on AgriTalk.

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