Ag at Large: Oppressive rules hinder farmers

By Don Curlee

Talking with, learning and writing about California farmers and their associates has been at least a half lifetime experience. It tells me they are worth listening too.

Many of them have come to the stark conclusion that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is their enemy. While its purported goals of protecting and preserving the environment seem commendable, its actions to achieve them often undermine farmers’ efforts to produce food.

Worse, some of the agency’s actions have proven to be excessive, even foolish, possibly vindictive and poorly researched. Often their influence has gone far beyond stated expectations to cause unexpected consequences (damage and disruption) in fields the agency considered unrelated. The regulations backfired.

Currently farmers are responding to EPA efforts to control ponds, drainage areas and puddles on their property. The federal agency, in a partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, is trying to convince a gullible public that these are navigable waters which should be under federal jurisdiction, private property and traditional water rights be damned. Navigable?

Now, more recent than the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) fiasco, comes the notorious EPA’s intention to prohibit farmers’ use of two agricultural chemicals that have been basic to many farm operations for years. One of the compounds the agency seems to despise is the popular and predominantly safe weed killer Roundup. The other is a very effective and also very safe insecticide named Belt.

A few columns back we talked about Roundup’s heritage and its appeal to a wide range of non-farm customers throughout the country and the world. The little squirt bottle of Roundup has found homes in millions of closets, garages and other home storage areas around the world.

Belt has no such appeal or application for residential consumers. It is an out and out agricultural pesticide. That alone strips it of any citizen support it might hope for beyond farm use.

For years Belt has been the “go to” insecticide for farmers producing nearly a dozen strategic crops, not all of them popular in California. But California growers of lettuce, alfalfa, almonds, pistachios and bell peppers have depended on it for control of voracious cut worms, and other common destructive insect pests.

Belt supplier Bayer Crop Science – yes, it is part of the same company that supplies your aspirin – in early February was asked by the EPA to voluntarily cancel all uses of Belt, whose chemical designation is flubendiamide. Bayer said no, partly because it believes the EPA’s methodology for evaluating the risk of this material and others is significantly flawed.

EPA procedure allows 30 days of continued distribution, after which Bayer will call for an administrative hearing.

The federal agency, which considers itself a watchdog, but may be more akin to a troublesome terrier, believes Belt causes distress to certain aquatic vertebrates found mostly in the southeastern states. It is not considered a threat to human health.

One of those farm interests coming to Bayer’s defense is Western Growers, the large association that includes most California growers of high-volume vegetable crops – lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and others.

This association and Bayer, as well as Belt co-distributor Nichino America, are not taking EPA’s intrusion lightly, nor should they or anybody else. EPA is not controlled or administered by any elected representative, possibly not even overseen very well. In the minds of many farmers it has become a rogue agency with power to interfere with important enterprises.

Worse than being troublesome and intrusive the EPA has become a model for other federal and even state collections of bureaucrats traveling under their mysterious acronym banners. Enemies, even those representing the federal government – maybe especially the feds – need to be opposed, challenged and hopefully turned back. Don’t tread on me.