John Deere Sprayer

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Court upholds science-based regulation restoring farmers’ use of chlorpyrifos

November 9, 2023 | Brock Johnston

Agriculture groups, including the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) are applauding a federal appeals court decision that strikes down the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule banning the use of chlorpyrifos, a crop protection tool farmers use to mitigate insects and other pests.

The decision, in which the court found EPA disregarded its own scientists’ findings by ending numerous uses of chlorpyrifos they determined were safe, rescinds the 2021 rule and restores agricultural uses of the tool.

Agriculture groups brought a lawsuit against the agency in February 2022 seeking to restore farmers’ ability to use the tool for crop protection. ISA had previously joined 81 other agricultural organizations in an Oct. 2021 letter objecting to the EPA rule to revoke all tolerances of chlorpyrifos.

“The federal court’s ruling confirmed what Iowa soybean farmers have said all along – the EPA’s chlorpyrifos ban ignored the science from its own scientific advisory committee that found numerous safe uses for the crop protection tool, including soybeans,” said Michael Dolch, ISA senior director of public affairs.

Soybean growers use chlorpyrifos to control both two-spotted spider mites (TSM) and soybean aphid populations that have developed resistance to other insecticides, such as pyrethroids. These pests can inflict yield losses as high as 60% if left unchecked.

The groups further highlighted that, in EPA’s own records, agency career scientists found at least 11 high-benefit, low-risk agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos that can be maintained safely.

“For growers who face these pests, there is no one-to-one replacement for chlorpyrifos – it is the only option that will control both pests,” ISA and others affirmed in the 2021 letter to the EPA.

If the EPA’s initial rule was upheld, groups expressed concern it could have an adverse effect on the environment.

“Soybean growers facing TSM and pyrethroid resistant aphids would have to continue to choose between applying twice as much pesticide active ingredient (which significantly increases operational costs) or face serious crop damage. This results in an increase in pesticides used in the environment and additional sprays which unnecessarily increase the use of water and fuel,” they said.

ISA has long supported and encouraged reasonable efforts and data-driven decisions to improve crop-protection product safety, handling, and education, including training and requiring farmers to follow label requirements.

Dolch says growers are eager to have uses of chlorpyrifos restored for the 2024 growing season.

“The reinstatement of chlorpyrifos is a precedent-setting win for farmers who have battled EPA for years to protect the insecticide,” Dolch says. “Farmers are committed to responsibly growing safe and nutritious food and feed.”

ISA will continue to engage with EPA during the chlorpyrifos registration review process to ensure critical and safe uses of the tool can be retained in the years to come.

Bethany Baratta contributed to this story.