FARGO, North Dakota — With a change in administration in Washington, D.C., it’s natural for farmers to wonder whether there’s a new “attitude” in the capital toward crop pesticides.

Chris Novak, president and chief executive officer of CropLife America, who spoke at the Northern Ag Expo in Fargo on Dec. 1, 2021, is keeping tabs on any attitudes and focusing on “attitude adjustment,” where needed.

CLA is a trade association whose manufacturers, formulators and distributors of agricultural pesticides. Associate members include entities as diverse as PepsiCo Inc. and the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. Among other things, CLA works to ensure regulations to approve or review pesticides are fair and reasonable.

Novak has served in the position since late 2018, after holding top executive positions at the National Corn Growers Association, the National Pork Board and the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

The Northern Ag Expo, sponsored by the North Dakota Agricultural Association, usually draws  more than 2,000 people to a trade show and educational seminars, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2021, at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota. Photo taken Dec. 1, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The Northern Ag Expo, sponsored by the North Dakota Agricultural Association, usually draws more than 2,000 people to a trade show and educational seminars, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2021, at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota. Photo taken Dec. 1, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
In early 2021, CLA conducted the first a series of surveys to measure attitudes toward pesticides. The survey reached 200 of government-related influencers — ag-related lobbyists, state and federal elected officials and staff. The CLA found that 51% believed the benefits of agricultural pesticides outweigh the risks, while 31% believe risks outweigh the benefits, and the rest were undecided. About 57% support use of pesticides in ag production, meaning a large percent do not. He said the survey is the first of a series of surveys, designed to judge changes in attitudes about pesticides.

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Novak underlined that his organization is coming around to again using the plain language of “pesticides,” rather than couching it in terms such as “crop protectants” when talking to the public. He said farmers and the pesticide industry had trained itself to use a the more amorphous term, but the general public doesn’t know what it means. They equate “crop protection” with “crop insurance.”

Legislative issues

Novak said many in the environmental “activist community” believe farmers “can and should produce without commercial and synthetic pesticides.” The industry and farmers generally believe that’s impractical. He pointed to the country of Sri Lanka, which in May 2021 banned synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, declaring itself the first organic farming nation. The restrictions were abandoned in late November 2021, after food production shortages.

“Global pressure, connecting with lawsuits, connecting with an activist agenda, is having a tremendous impact on the potential availability of pesticides in the future," Novak said.

Minnesota in the past couple of years has considered rolling back a law that prevents a local government from imposing their own standards on pesticides.

On the federal level, the CLA is encountering the potential overhaul of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

On Dec. 1, 2021, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, a vegetarian and Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, again introduced a proposed FIFRA update bill. Booker’s “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticide Act” would give states and local more power over chemical use and would ban individual chemistries. While unlikely to pass any time soon, it would make decisions that should be scientific into political decisions, Novak said.

Minnesota in past couple of years has tried to roll back a law that prevents a local government from imposing their own standards on pesticides.

"We are giving up on the regulatory system we have built in this country,” Novak said. The U.S. regulations balance benefits with risks, while European regulation has focused primarily on eliminating risk.

Currently, the EPA is looking at making changes in farm chemicals such as dicamba and Enlist, he said.

“We’re working to ensure that (regulators) understand that farmers and retail distributors have made a lot of decisions already, in terms of what the inventories look like, what is the farm acreage going to look like in 2022, what seeds have farmers ordered, and what are the associated pesticide products that do need to accompany those seeds,” Novak said.

Changes coming from EPA now, that could disrupt those plans and could compound supply chain management issues, he said.

Among the issues the CLA is looking at include European Union EU is looking to ban a number of chemistries, or reduce levels of levels of chemicals allowed through Maximum Residue Levels. This could affect trade.

“You may not be able to ship out wheat to Europe,” Novak said. Certain potato exports could be impacted.

Tort lawsuits, for alleged injuries from chemicals like Paraquat and glyphosate, are having growing impact.

“What we have seen is attorneys who have jumped into these issues looking for deep pockets. . . . They are taking difficult scientific questions around the causation of particular diseases to a jury that has no real capacity to address and understand those issues,” Novak said. “Certainly we know juries are going to be sympathetic to a plaintiff who may be afflicted with these diseases.”