Do you ever feel like decisions made regarding the use of crop protections — like pesticides — are made in a bubble?
If you do, you’re not alone. But, as some Michigan Farm Bureau members recently learned during MFB’s Washington Legislative Seminar (WLS), federal regulators want to hear from you — and there are people in USDA and EPA who are working to create and improve opportunities for farmers to be represented in decision making processes.
As part of the WLS session in Washington, D.C., growers heard from Clayton Myers, Ph.D., an entomologist from USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy (OPMP), which serves as the USDA lead regarding pesticide regulation and policy.
Meyers noted that OPMP’s job is to advocate for growers, and that they take special pride in representing specialty crop growers — especially those in Michigan.
“Our office exists to be a voice for farmers to emphasize what critical grower needs that are for pest management, and to get EPA all the information that they need to best support sound decisions,” Meyers said.
“We like to think that we help decisions are smarter we want labels to make sense. We want practical discussions that are going to be suitable for growers and that sort of that field.”
Cass County Farm Bureau member Dan Wyant was impressed by the amount of experience in the room as farmers talked directly with USDA and EPA officials. It’s worth noting that Wyant has his own experience having served for 10 years as the director of MDARD and five years leading Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality.
“Relationships matter and having people who are willing to come to Washington, D.C., and spend time with USDA, spend time with EPA, and develop a relationship — I think makes a huge difference from my experience,” Wyant said.
“Farm Bureau members were able to communicate proactivity and the fact that agriculture is making great progress and doing the right thing.”
MFB members were also able to talk with EPA Senior Agricultural Advisor Rod Snyder, who works for EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. As a Farm Bureau member himself, Snyder brings unique perspective to the role, living on his family farm in West Virginia.
He spoke about Regan’s strong relationship with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the challenges of registrations under federal regulations, and the role that emerging technology will play in the future as crop protections become even more targeted.
“I think there are a lot of exciting developments coming in terms of technology, whether that is biological products, or CRISPR and gene editing, we're moving into a whole new era in terms of innovation around pest management and weed management,” Snyder said.
“And traditional ag chemistry will always play a role but hopefully we continue to expand the toolbox in terms of what we have available to us.”
The MFB group also heard from Ed Ruckert, legal counsel for the Minor Crop Farmer Alliance, which advocates for use of sound science in government minor-use pesticide policies, so that growers have access to safe, effective, affordable crop protection tools. He said it’s important for EPA to have the resources, staff and funding it needs to do its job effectively, and for farmers to support clear, consistent regulations.
“That doesn't mean we're not going to battle back and forth on some of the conclusions,” Ruckert said. “We are — but they are as important to our existence as USDA is to our existence, from my perspective.”
Learning about the challenges that EPA faces going through thousands of pages of scientific studies, public comments and other materials during each review process provided valuable perspective for the group, said MFB board member Ben LaCross.
“When we come to Washington with Michigan Farm Bureau, we get access to the decision makers who have authority over a lot of those crop protection materials that are so important to us,” said LaCross, who also attended the WLS session.
“It's the power of our members’ voice through Farm Bureau that we get to have those conversations directly with policy makers.”