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EPA reverses course on herbicide ban in Kansas, Oklahoma and several other Midwestern states

Sprayer boom in action applying ag chemicals
Tom Campbell
Purdue University
Sprayer boom in action applying ag chemicals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week reversed a restriction that was intended to help the endangered American Burying Beetle. The agency now says the weedkiller doesn’t pose a risk.

Farmers in 132 counties in states across the Midwest and Great Plains are now free to use Corteva’s Enlist brand of herbicides, changing course on a regulatory agency's earlier decision.

In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restricted use of the herbicides in counties where the endangered American Burying Beetle is present.

There was a fear it could harm the insect.

But a coalition of farm groups from several states, led by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, pushed back. After the EPA looked at additional data about the runoff levels of the herbicide if applied properly, it canceled the restriction last week.

Farm interests believe the change came in the nick of time.

“The decision was made before spring planting, so it wasn’t too late for those producers who were caught with those products in their barns and all ready to go in their planters,” said Christi Miller, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

The restriction has been lifted in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

 An American burying beetle leaves a brown secretion on Oklahoma State University professor Wyatt Hoback's fingers.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
An American burying beetle leaves a brown secretion on Oklahoma State University professor Wyatt Hoback's fingers.

The EPA determined that if used properly the herbicides, which are typically applied to corn, soybeans and cotton, did not pose a threat in most counties. The restriction is still in place in parts of Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, Colorado and Florida.

Miller said while it worked out well in the end, the ban put a scare in a lot of farmers.

“It was harmful for those counties who had made growing decisions. They made purchases for this season. So when you come in January and make that kind of a decision, that’s kind of in the middle of the game,” Miller said.

Mark Loux, professor of weed management at The Ohio State University was more direct in his criticism of the initial ban in January.

“Sometimes you’d like the s**t to stop hitting the fan just long enough to get cleaned up, but you can’t get a break,” he wrote of the initial January decision.

Loux criticized the EPA for the timing of the restriction and the position it put farmers in considering other market factors.

“This really couldn’t happen at a worse time for growers,” Loux wrote in his commentary for Ohio State University Extension. “We lack solid information on herbicide availability and price, and it’s a fluid situation.”

Environmentalists and some in the agriculture community are hoping the endangered beetle will still be protected despite the change.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University believe the insects could hold the key to new medical treatments and meat preservation methods, as well as help replenish nutrients in the soil.

“We, as humans, are intelligent enough to see the value that organisms contribute and understand how we impact them, and therefore we’re ethically responsible for doing the best that we can do,” said Wyatt Hoback, professor of entomology and plant pathology at Oklahoma State.

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Jonathan Ahl joined Iowa Public Radio as News Director in July 2008. He leads the news and talk show teams in field reporting, feature reporting, audio documentaries, and talk show content. With more than 17 years in public media, Jonathan is a nationally award-winning reporter that has worked at public radio stations in Macomb, Springfield and Peoria, IL. He served WCBU-FM in Peoria as news director before coming to Iowa. He also served as a part-time instructor at Bradley University teaching journalism and writing courses. Jonathan is currently serving a second term as president of PRNDI ââ