There is growing frustration for many corn and soybean growers as they wage yet another battle with resistant weeds in 2013 when there are new tools that have been developed to fight them, but continue to be delayed in the federal approval process.
In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) announced plans to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on soybean, corn and cotton crops designed to tolerate the 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and Dicamba herbicides. The move could delay the introduction of new products containing these herbicide-tolerant traits to the market for an additional two to four years.
We recently talked with John Davis, a Delaware County farmer and board member for the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, about his thoughts on this challenge.
OCJ: What is the current status of some of the yet-to-be-approved biotech traits that are important for Ohio agriculture?
John: Unfortunately, the status of many new biotech traits seems to be fairly stagnant. The process for agricultural companies to bring a new trait to market has recently become much more time consuming and expensive, which in turn increases the cost of these products for the producer and for the consumer.
OCJ: What are the reasons for the delay, in your opinion?
John: With only 1% of the population of the United States involved the direct production of food it does not create the loudest voice legislators and regulators hear. The voices they hear the loudest many times are those of activist groups which don’t always have the most precise scientific data and information or simply choose not to use it. It is vital for all of us in agriculture to have as close to one voice as possible when working with legislators at any level, but most important when going to Washington.
OCJ: What role do activist groups play in this delay?
John: The activist groups have created many hurdles when it comes to the delays in the regulatory process. They are very organized and well funded and continually speak with our legislators. Like they say, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” and unfortunately those of us in agriculture are not always speaking up the way we should and many of us don’t speak up at all. We must all become involved in these processes in order to make our voice heard.
OCJ: Along with some of the more extreme views on biotechnology, there are some legitimate concerns from agriculture over the potential problems that could result from drift and other issues with sensitive crops. How do these concerns factor into this ongoing approval debate?
John: I agree that there are concerns with the introduction of new technologies and I believe if we look at sound science-based data and use proven practices to manage these issues, then we will be able to continue to have technologies available. Agriculture has now been using biotech traits for many years and we have become accustomed to making changes to protect these technologies. Take, for example, Insect Resistant Management or IRM. We have made this process work and have improved on it over time.
OCJ: In the years you have been working with lawmakers, what observations do you have about changes in the political climate at the federal level?
John: I would say one of the greatest changes has been the disconnect between the legislators in Washington and those of us in rural America. We are outnumbered by people who know very little about agriculture and who also have agendas that deal with issues completely unrelated to agriculture. We are becoming less and less relevant to the decision making process in Washington and that is very troublesome.
OCJ: What does Ohio agriculture need to do to address these challenges?
John: I believe one thing Ohio agriculture can do is to help build alliances with groups that might not be the traditional groups we may have worked with in the past. We have done this before when we had our battle with HSUS. We were able to sit down at the table and work through the issues and come to a solution. Nationally we were able to work closely with some environmental groups to help with the Water Resources Development Act for the improvement of locks and dams. By working together with many different groups, it will help to increase our voice and help to keep agriculture successful` and profitable.
OCJ: What is your outlook for the future of agriculture when considering the regulatory challenges facing the industry?
John: Even though it seems as though many hurdles exist, I think the future is bright. We need to be positive and encourage all of our legislators and regulatory agencies to move forward with decisions in a timely responsible manner using sound science based data.
We in production agriculture have been challenged to produce enough food fiber and fuel for the ever increasing population here at home and abroad. I believe we are up to the challenge and will be successful.