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New Genetically Modified Crops Stoke Herbicide Drift Concerns

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 10.28.02 AMIn March, as a representative of organic and sustainable farmers across the state, Georgia Organics attended a Georgia Department of Agriculture listening session concerning new herbicide-resistant traits to control Palmer amaranth–aka Roundup-resistant pigweed–that will soon be commercially available in Georgia. Many producers are concerned that the introduction of these new genetically modified crops will be accompanied by an increase in the incidences of pesticide drift, which could cause severe economic losses for organic farms across the state.

Dow AgroSciences has developed a 2,4-D-resistant cropping system (a genetically modified crop and the herbicides it is resistant to), known as Enlist™, slated for release in 2016. Monsanto Company has developed a dicamba-resistant cropping system, Xtend™, set to become available in 2015. The resistance to these synthetic Auxin herbicides will be commercially available in crops including corn, soybean, and cotton.

One major consideration for the introduction of this technology is their toxicity to non-target broadleaf crops. Even with some measures in place to decrease the incidence of drift, it’s still a major concern due to the potency of this class of pesticides, increased pesticide use, and the availability of more affordable generic pesticide formulations.

Spray drift of a pesticide occurs when pesticide particles float away from the crop it is applied to. There are many factors that impact drift of a pesticide— weather conditions, the type of spray nozzle and application technology used, and the size of spray particles.

Volatilization, which occurs when an applied pesticide evaporates, can also create drift. Pesticide formulations with a low volatility, meaning they do not evaporate as quickly, can help prevent off target movement.

Drift is a serious economic problem for organic producers because it can damage broadleaf crops and cause a loss of organic certification. If lost, certification can’t be obtained again until three years from the time of the drift incident. Drift can also negatively affect bee populations.

Georgia is currently home to 76 certified organic farms and leads the nation in Certified Naturally Grown certification with 138 Certified Naturally Grown farms, among many other uncertified, no-spray operations and apiaries. Along with the specialty crop growers throughout Georgia, these farmers are concerned about damages and loss of marketability of their crops due to pesticide drift.
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Table 1: This table numbers various producers that could be negatively impacted by pesticide drift. Information on Certified Organic farms comes from the Agricultural Marketing Service 2012 Organic Production Survey; information on Certified Naturally Grown Producers comes from the Certified Naturally Grown Website; information on Apiaries is self-reported and available on the Georgia Beekeepers Association website.

Georgia’s organic industry is growing rapidly, and since 2003 the number of USDA registered organic farms has increased 48 percent. In fact, behind North Carolina and Florida, Georgia is leading the Southeast in organic farm acreage. According to the 2012 USDA Organic Survey, the value of organic sales in Georgia was $12.5 million in 2011. The majority of these sales come from certified organic land in the southern parts of the state, the same region where the majority of cotton and soybean production take place. Organic blueberries and onions alone made up 37 percent of those sales, over $4.6 million.organic farms national 2012 census

Figure 1: Map from the 2012 Census of Agriculture highlighting organic sales in the US.

According to surveys conducted by the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO), 2,4-D was the most commonly reported active ingredient in pesticide drift incidents for the three consecutive years (2002-2004) the survey was conducted. According to the same survey, dicamba was the third most commonly reported active ingredient involved in incidents of drift for the latter two years the survey was conducted.
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Table 2: The five most commonly reported active ingredients in incidences of pesticide drift according to the 2005 AAPCO Pesticide Drift Enforcement Survey.

According to EPA market surveys, in 2001, 2,4-D was the fifth most commonly applied active ingredient in pesticides for agricultural use. Dicamba barely made the list of the top 25 most commonly applied active ingredients at number 24. In 2007 EPA market surveys, 2,4-D fell to the seventh most commonly applied while dicamba didn’t make the top 25. However, with the introduction of dicamba- and 2,4-D resistant row crops, usage of both of these active ingredients is expected to rise significantly. It is especially a serious concern that an infrequently applied active ingredient, dicamba, was one of the most commonly reported in instances of drift.

Because this technology has been approved by the EPA and will be available in Georgia as early as next year, Georgia Organics is currently developing comments for the Georgia Department of Agriculture on managing and preventing incidences of drift. We hope that by working with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and other stakeholders across the state, we can create a comprehensive plan to prevent crop and economic loss from non-target farms and maintain the integrity of organic and no-spray operations across the state.

If you are a representative of a stakeholder organization and would like to show support for Georgia Organics’ efforts, feel free to send a letter of support to be submitted to the Georgia Department of Agriculture alongside our comments. Letters can be sent to: farmerservices@georgiaorganics.org.

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