Much discussion has occurred about the EPA’s renewed interest in addressing the effects of pesticides on endangered species. Everyone in the agricultural industry is concerned about the potential loss of products and the implementation of additional management practices to mitigate their off-target movement from both drift and runoff.
Protecting the environment and endangered species is a good thing, but so is protecting American farmers and their ability to feed and clothe our country and world. I would argue that the American farmer should now also be considered an endangered species.
In 2020, direct on-farm employment accounted for only 1.4% of all U.S. employment. Many folks who are pointing fingers at our industry have no clue about how food is grown, or the absolute need for pesticides as one component of a total pest management program, and that most growers have a long-term legacy/commitment to their land. Who could possible care more about the environment than a farmer?
Is my opinion, after spending 32 years in Extension, our industry (me included) has not done a sufficient job telling the 2nd Greatest Story Ever Told. Why is it that we barely (never) see a high-profile celebrity or athlete bragging about the American farmer? They appear to be very well-fed, clothed, and housed. Assuming normal supply chain activity, most Americans can get just about any kind of food or drink they want at any hour of the day or night. That does not happen by accident!
One of the things I ask my graduate students to do is have an “elevator speech” ready when they encounter someone who might be anti-pesticide and/or extra concerned about the environment. I think everyone in our industry should also have one of these talks ready as well.
Here are 10 facts to help you with your own elevator speech:
U.S. farmer feeds 166 people annually here and abroad.
Contrary to popular belief, a 2021 survey from the USDA-ERS indicated that 97.8% of all farms in the U.S. are family farms. A family farm is a farm in which most business assets are owned by an operator and individuals related to the operator by blood, marriage or adoption. In my own life, I could maybe count on two hands the number of times that I have visited a “Corporate” farm.
Future population predications will require farmers to produce at least 70% more food than what is now produced.This will be impossible without the use of some pesticides.
Farm subsidies are important to U.S. agriculture but 76% of all farm bill expenditures are used for nutrition programs such as WIC and SNAP. My humble opinion is that production agriculture should be part of the National Defense Budget.
Since 2000, U.S. soybean yields have increased by 32% and corn yields by 26%.World high yield records for these crops are broken almost every year.
Pesticides are heavily regulated by the EPA. Numerous laws are enforced by the EPA including the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act, Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Food Quality Protection Act, Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
Pesticides do not randomly fall from the sky into a grower’s field. It takes a little over 11 years and close to $300 million dollars to develop a new pesticide.Only 1/160,000 chemicals ever make it from the chemist’s lab to a grower’s field. It takes about 10 to 15 years and somewhere between $161 million and $4.54 billion dollars to develop a new drug (i.e. medicine).
Federal law requires any person who applies or supervises the use of restricted use pesticides (RUPs) to be certified in accordance with EPA regulations and state/ territorial/tribal laws. Approximately 1 million applicators are certified to apply RUPs.
Although the evolution of pesticide-resistant in some weeds, insects, and diseases is a negative, it is also a positive in the fact that it has renewed/reinvigorated research/development and implementation of nonchemical control strategies.In many areas of the U.S, modern day pest management programs now incorporate multiple tactics including various cultural, chemical, and mechanical practices when practical.
In the most recent USDA-AMS Pesticide Data Program Summary in Dec. 2022, more than 99% of the 10,127 samples of fresh/processed fruit/vegetables/corn (grain)/butter had pesticide residues lower than current EPA tolerance standards. Twenty-four percent of those samples had no detectable pesticide residues.
It is never easy to talk to somebody that already has their mind made up. It is important to have a convincing elevator speech about the many benefits of agriculture and the need for the judicious use of pesticides.
Nobody can tell that story more convincingly as the American farmer!I am also very hopeful that the powers that be will keep the American farmer off the endangered species list by implementing newer pesticide policies based upon sound science.
As always, good weed hunting!
Prostko is a UGA Extension Weed Specialist and regular contributor to Southeast Farm Press.