Benefits of Longer-Term Farm Leasing, Seed Treatment in the Crosshairs
Conservation Benefits of Farm Lease Terms
Longer terms for farm leases may motivate more conservation practices on the land according to an Iowa State University study recently highlighted by DTN Progressive Farmer. Although conservation practices for farms and farmland provides a number of benefits “on and off-farm,” the research indicates that leased land can pose an obstacle to adoption of such practices. A significant amount of U.S. farmland is leased to operators, often under short-term leases that are less than 2 years. The study noted the importance of leasing on conservation adoption since “more than half of Midwestern farmland is rented out.”
Evidence from the study showed that adoption of cover crops, buffer strips, and ponds/sediment basins were lower on rented land than for owner-operator land. However, a significant proportion of non-operating landowners would be willing to assist tenants by granting longer leases, or even paying a portion of the costs, for adopting cover crops. This is important because the high costs and short leases are “barriers to tenants adopting conservation practices.”
It makes sense that longer lease terms would incentivize tenants to undertake conservation practices since they will have more time to recoup costs and enjoy the benefits.
Enlist Gains Ground
The EPA recently announced that it is allowing a label amendment to Enlist herbicides that will add 134 counties that were previously banned due to Endangered Species risks. The amendments were welcome news since EPA’s surprising registration decision in January imposed bans in many counties across the country. Enlist herbicides were the first to receive full Endangered Species Act review by the Agency, which resulted in the county prohibitions. After reviewing new data from Corteva and consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the EPA allowed label amendments so the herbicides “can now be used in all counties of Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.” Restrictions that were imposed in 6 Minnesota counties over concerns to the Massasauga rattlesnake were removed because the Fish and Wildlife Service determined the rattlesnake is no longer present in Minnesota. A number of banned counties remain in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Treated Seeds Under Fire
A lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety and the Pesticide Action Network North America against EPA provides the latest chapter of an ongoing legal battle over EPA’s approach to treated seed. Filed in federal court in the Northern District of California, the two environmental groups claim that EPA has improperly used the “treated articles” exemption to exempt pesticide-treated seeds from registration under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The groups take particular aim at the use of neonicotinoids for seed treatments, claiming that these are unregistered pesticides.
Under FIFRA, all pesticides must be registered with the EPA before they can be sold or distributed, subject to some limited exceptions. One of the exemptions is the “treated articles or substances” exemption found at 40 C.F.R. 152.25(a):
According to the environmental groups, the exemption should not apply to treated seed, in large part because the treatment does not protect the seed itself, rather it protects the plants grown from the seed. Since neonicotinoids are systemic, they are taken up into the plants’ tissues instead of remaining on the seed’s surface.
The lawsuit asks the court to force EPA to respond to a rulemaking petition filed by the environmental groups in 2017 where they asked EPA to draft an Agency rule regarding FIFRA’s regulation of treated seeds. If the lawsuit is successful, the EPA will be required to respond to the rulemaking petition – either by denying it, or going forward by drafting a rule. If EPA denies the group’s petition, then they would have grounds to sue EPA again to challenge the denial.