Grower organizations representing a variety of crops, including the American Soybean Association, are disappointed with the U.S. EPA’s draft biological evaluation (BE) for several neonicotinoid products, including imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin. The groups representing farmers across the country say that failure to consider real-world usage data in the analysis conducted as part of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could limit growers’ ability to protect their crops and livelihoods and not assure endangered species are any safer.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, ASA, National Cotton Council and Minor Crop Farmer Alliance say ESA analyses are, by law, required to “use the best scientific and commercial data available” to ensure endangered species and their habitats will not be adversely affected by an agency’s action. The groups point out the draft BE does not use the “best available data” and cite multiple examples of assumptions made in the EPA assessment that do not align with growers’ real use of neonicotinoid products:
- The draft BE assumes U.S. soybean farmers apply imidacloprid at 0.50 pounds per acre, the annual maximum rate allowed by law. However, USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data indicates that, in 2018, soybean growers applied an annual average of only 0.054 pounds per acre – less than one-ninth the draft BE’s assumed rate.
- The draft BE assumes U.S. cotton farmers apply the annual maximum of 0.125 lb/acre of thiamethoxam. However, 2010-2014 market research data used by EPA to conduct its thiamethoxam benefits review shows that cotton farmers actually use an annual average of 0.037 pounds per acre – less than one-third the draft BE’s assumed rate.
- The draft BE assumes U.S. soybean farmers make extensive foliar spray applications of neonicotinoids. However, USDA declined to release the breakdown for foliar applications compared with lower-risk seed treatments in its ARMS survey: In 2018, there were fewer than five total foliar applications of all three chemistries reported nationally, which fails to meet the threshold to allow for survey data release.
“USDA survey and commercial use data are available and show how growers actually use these tools, but the draft BE instead includes application rates, numbers, types, and reapplication timing for these neonicotinoid products that are remarkably inconsistent with the actual, available data,” ASA President and South Dakota farmer Kevin Scott said. “These erroneous assumptions could have real, negative consequences for farmers and other end users if they are used for the final ESA analysis.”
EPA’s overly cautious assumptions have led to significant inflation in the number of species receiving a “likely to adversely affect” designation. This could result in greater and unnecessary restrictions for products, which will do nothing to help species and only impede use of tools farmers rely on to sustainably grow a healthy and nutritious product.
Farmers are using new technology and practices every day to better manage their fields and protect wildlife. For example, farmers regularly use neonicotinoids and other crop protection tools as seed treatments, which can reduce soil surface exposure area by more than 99% compared with surface treatments—thus reducing risks to wildlife. Growers also seek participation in conservation programs and alliances such as the BeSure! Program and the Monarch Collaborative that aim to 1. improve policy 2. spread awareness of best-use stewardship practices for protecting species health and managing responsible product use.
The grower groups will continue to review the draft BE and participate in the public comment period to encourage use of best available scientific and commercial data in the final BE.
The American Soybean Association represents U.S. soybean farmers on domestic and international policy issues important to the soybean industry. ASA has 26 affiliated state associations representing 30 soybean- producing states and more than 500,000 soybean farmers. More information at soygrowers.com.