By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and Soybean Check-off.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently issued two proposals in an attempt to fulfil their obligation under the Endangered Species Act and protecting endangered species from agricultural chemicals. These proposals are both very concerning to those involved in crop production as they could impose cost prohibitive restrictions on common agricultural practices.
Brandon Kern is the director of Public Affairs and Issue Analysis for the Ohio Soybean Association. Kern says that soybean farmers should be paying close attention to what has been proposed. “One proposal is called the Vulnerable Species Pilot Program, and the other is the EPA’s overall herbicide strategy that deals with just the herbicides,” said Kern. “Looking closer at these two proposals, the EPA’s Vulnerable Species Pilot Program has created pesticide use limitation areas all across the country associated with 27 different endangered or threatened species where their new pesticide use restrictions will be put in place if that proposal is enacted by the EPA.”
Ohio farmers are not exempt from these proposals. “In Ohio there are two different species that are being targeted under the Vulnerable Species Pilot Program proposal,” said Kern. “What the EPA is doing is to create a picklist of different land management practices to control both spray drift as well as soil erosion and run-off to protect those endangered species. Farmers would need to implement four different practices on their farms if they are located in the pesticide use limitation areas and want to apply pesticides. They are significant steps.”
If a farmer intends to apply herbicide at any time of the year, the proposed requirements are more excessive than the pesticide (insecticide) strategy. “I would argue that the herbicide strategy has a more onerous requirements than the pesticide strategy,” said Kern. “There will be new baseline mitigation measures that every farmer that grows soybeans in the country will have to have in place to be able to apply herbicides under this strategy. In addition they have these pesticide use limitation areas that have even more stringent requirements than the new baselines. The baseline requirements include spray drift buffers up to 200 feet for ground application and 500 feet for aerial application. They have weather restrictions proposed for rain amounts similar to fertilizer applications. They have even gone so far as to say that a farmer cannot comply if there is subsurface drainage that is not controlled, and a water control structure or water stop is not enough. To comply the subsurface drainage would need to go into a vegetative retention basin or retention pond to capture all the water off of that field.”
Patrick Knoff, soybean farmer and President of the Ohio Soybean Association, said the proposals from the EPA are not realistic. “There are issues in the proposal that completely take the freedom to farm away from us,” said Knoff. “The idea of 200-foot buffers on a thirty acre field or needing a retention pond to capture all the runoff are ridiculous to think through as a farmer. That is why we have the association and legislative action that we have in place to try to work with and teach these people that these are unrealistic goals. It is also important that we help them see that we as farmers are being good stewards of the land and want to give this to the next generation and grow our farms sustainably.”
Herbicide resistance and noxious weeds are a concern under the proposed programs. “When weeds are not controlled, they will go to seed and be a problem in the fields beyond where they start,” said Knoff. “There is a whole list of noxious weeds in the state that by law we are required to control in Ohio. How weed outbreaks are supposed to be controlled without chemical application is an aspect that has not been thought out very well yet. This also does not account for the growing list of herbicide resistant weeds. These proposed programs threaten all farmers’ freedom to farm.”