On May 20-21, EPA conducted a virtual meeting of its Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC). The PPDC is a forum for a diverse group of stakeholders to provide feedback to EPA on various pesticide regulatory, policy, and program implementation issues. CPDA President Gary Halvorson has been appointed by EPA to serve on the PPDC for a two-year term and will be representing the interests of Council members throughout the committee proceedings.
Summary of Agricultural related topics:
- EPA Response to COVID-19: to change the source of active ingredient and inert ingredients contained in pesticide formulations
- EPA Addresses Emerging Technologies in Agriculture: including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
- Agency Provides Update on Dicamba Registration Decision
- EPA Workgroups to be formed
EPA Response to COVID-19
During the recent PPDC meeting, the Agency addressed several Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) initiatives aimed at responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these, EPA is adopting a process that will allow companies to more swiftly change the source of active ingredient and inert ingredients contained in pesticide formulations. EPA is implementing this change in anticipation of potential supply chain disruptions that could impede product availability in the future. According to EPA, this modification in registration procedures is temporary and will not result in any substantive changes to the label.
EPA Addresses Emerging Technologies in Agriculture
Other discussion during the PPDC focused on how the deployment of emerging technologies in agriculture will change the way pesticides are currently used in crop production. The EPA presentation addressed technologies including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for conducting pesticide applications, accessing information in real time through the use of web-distributed labeling and QR bar codes, monitoring field conditions through GPS tracking systems, and other high-tech innovations.
EPA staff explained that today’s technology allows a farmer in the field to access information on how much pesticide to apply to a crop in real time simply by scanning a QR label code with a smart phone. Similarly, web-distributed labeling allows the user or grower to identify in real time the specific information he or she needs without having to search through an extensive pesticide label that can contain as many as 40 pages of information. EPA officials acknowledge that these high-tech innovations are dependent upon reliable access to the internet and could be somewhat problematic in certain rural areas which lack broadband access.
Agency officials concede that technological advancements have far outpaced the adoption of regulatory initiatives that respond to those new technologies due to the slow nature of the public policy process. EPA representatives recognize that many of the technological advancements and tools available today did not exist when the labels for many pesticide products were originally written and approved. As such, the Agency is looking at the policy implications associated with emerging technologies and is considering whether label requirements need to be revised accordingly.
For example, regulators must determine whether aerial applications include the use of UAVs and whether this should be stipulated as such on the label. Some states believe aerial applications include the use of UAVs while others do not share that position. In addition, the use of unmanned drones in the application of pesticides raises questions pertaining to requirements for personal protective equipment as well as issues related to the Worker Protection Standard. For example, if the UAV pilot is considered an applicator but does not come into direct contact with the pesticide, the question arises whether that individual should be exempt from PPE requirements such as wearing gloves, particularly since gloves could impede that individual’s ability to pilot the UAV. A determination will also need to be made as to which individual involved in the UAV application operation would be deemed a “handler” under the WPS.
Moreover, since all states require commercial pesticide applicators to be certified, regulators will need to determine which entity involved in the deployment of drones will need to be certified. As many as five separate individuals may be involved in a pesticide application operation that uses UAVs including: 1) the individual mixing and loading the pesticide; 2) the person operating the UAV controls; 3) the person serving as the “remote pilot in command” and having final authority on all decisions/actions in the operation; 4) the second controller who manipulates only the application equipment; and, 5) the observer who radios in advisory information.
To address the many questions surrounding the use of UAVs and other technologies in agriculture, EPA announced during the PPDC that it is establishing an Emerging Technologies Work Group. Membership on the work group is expected to be open to non-PPDC members as well as those individuals who serve on the PPDC.
Agency Provides Update on Dicamba Registration Decision
The PPDC discussion also included an update on the conditional registration of dicamba. The registrations for all dicamba products registered for over-the-top (OTT) use on cotton and soybeans genetically engineered to be dicamba-tolerant will expire on December 20, 2020, unless EPA acts to extend them. Registration Division Director Mike Goodis told the PPDC that the Agency is reviewing newly available data from registrants and the states to update its dicamba risk assessments in anticipation of making a new regulatory decision on registration.
In related developments, on April 28, 2020, the American Association of Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) sent a letter to EPA asking that the registration of dicamba be limited to pre-emergent applications and that post-emergent over-the-top registrations for soybeans be eliminated. In its letter, AAPCO cited concerns regarding post application volatility and off-target movement of dicamba herbicides. The letter also noted that some glyphosate resistant weed species are developing resistance to dicamba. AAPCO argued that the resources that have been diverted to the investigation of dicamba crop injury reports has placed significant demands on state enforcement budgets and this has impeded the ability of states to address other important pesticide regulatory obligations and commitments. AAPCO urged EPA to prohibit over-the-top, post-emergent soybean applications when it issues its new registration decision for dicamba. In its letter, AAPCO wrote, “Based on application dates of dicamba complaints investigated by the major soybean producing states in 2017 through 2019, prohibiting OTT applications could greatly reduce dicamba complaint investigations. Prohibiting OTT applications via the labels would also allow states the opportunity to submit legal Special Local Needs (24c) labels in order to meet their specific needs.”
Some industry representatives, however, refute AAPCO’s position noting that the organization does not necessarily speak for all the states on the dicamba issue. Individuals close to the situation point out that the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is the group that represents state commissioners of agriculture who serve as the lead pesticide regulatory authorities. As such, there is some debate on who speaks for the states on the dicamba registration issue.
Against this backdrop, RD Director Mike Goodis signaled that the Agency is considering a variety of options pertaining to dicamba registration and use. He told the PPDC that among these options would be one to allow for “regional” registrations of dicamba in lieu of Section 24(c) registrations. EPA officials add that a regulatory decision on dicamba will be made within a time frame that will provide growers adequate time to inform their planting decisions for 2021.
During the PPDC meeting, EPA announced the creation of several new work groups. As mentioned previously, one of these is the PPDC Emerging Technologies Work Group. Other work groups announced during the meeting include the Emerging Pathogens Work Group and the Consistent Labeling Work Group. The latter group will look at the formatting of labels to bring greater consistency of the type of information appearing across label sections.
PPDC Issue Briefs Available on EPA’s Web Site
A full set of the issue briefs presented at the PPDC meeting are available on EPA’s web site and may be accessed here.