Farmers and pest control advisers are likely to recoil at the idea of the Environmental Protection Agency meddling in the federal farm program, admits Jean-Mari Peltier, but the ag policy counselor to EPA's administrator says that's a likelihood that need not be feared.
Californian Peltier, former administrator at Cal-EPA, told the more than 1,000 people at the annual California Agricultural Production Consultants Association (CAPCA) in Anaheim, Calif., this fall that federal EPA is working with USDA in implementing a huge $17 billion conservation package as part of the new federal farm bill.
This represents an 80 percent increase in federal conservation funding that will cover everything from air quality to watershed management. The program will fund producers up to $450,000 each for environmentally friendly conservation programs.
Peltier said the funding is a “real recognition” in Washington of the specialty crop needs in states like California. She credited California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons and his efforts with NFACT in gaining greater federal recognition for the needs of Sun Belt states.
NFACT is an agricultural coalition of New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, California and Texas formed to gain greater funding from the federal government for non-commodity specialty crop producers in those states.
“There is definitely a role for pest control advisers in implementing the conservation title of this farm bill,” said Peltier. USDA, she added, has a big job in following the conservation mandates of the bill.
EPA is getting involved because of the air, water and pesticide issues put under the conservation umbrella.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will not significantly increase personnel to implement the broadened scope of the federal conservation program, she said. The agency will need the expertise to implement the broadened scope of the federal conservation program, she said. The agency will need the expertise of the private sector and EPA to implement programs to improve air and water quality as well as improve pest management.
Air and water quality will continue to pose bigger challenges for farmers in California and elsewhere, she said, and the $17 billion in federal funds to meet those challenges may be the spoonful of sugar that will make the regulatory medicine go down.
Peltier said EPA is moving ahead with implementing an air quality permitting process for agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. Agriculture had been exempt from that process, but environmentalist challenged that and EPA agreed to create a permitting system for farmers and ranchers in the San Joaquin.
She said the federal agency is still “grappling” with what are major sources of air pollution in ag. “Ag irrigation is the first thing we are looking at,” especially older, larger diesel pumps. If the valley is designated as “extreme non-attainment,” then pumps that emit more than 10 tons of pollutants will be designated as major polluters.
In anticipation of that, NRCS has only recently made available money to producers to trade out older pumps for cleaner burning ones.
The air pollution problems in the San Joaquin and California's South Coast “may not have been created by ag, but ag will be called on to be part of the solutions,” she said.
EPA's role in water and air quality may be increasing, but its role in registering pesticides is decreasing simply because there are fewer compounds being submitted to EPA.
Peltier said only 12 new ones began EPA review in 2002, about the same amount as in 2001. In 2000 there were 19 and from 1995-99 there was an average of 44 per year winding their way through EPA.
This is fallout from the consolidation in the pesticide manufacturing industry as well as a recognition of hard times in farming.
Also contributing to this is the unrealized expectation that the Food Quality Protection Act would result in wholesale cancellations of older compounds. That has not happened, she said, although new risk assessments for worker exposure has lengthened worker re-entry and post harvest intervals to the point that there is a dearth of products for late season applications.
Overall, she said pesticide use is declining because producers “are aggressively moving to reduce inputs to reduce costs and new chemistry is applied in ounces per acre rather than pounds per acre.”