A court case in the Pacific Northwest could spell more red tape and costs for producers, members of the Cotton Foundation and the American Cotton Producers were advised at their annual meeting at Albuquerque, N.M.

Centering on a conflict between Clean Water Act regulations and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the case identified pesticides applied by the U.S. Forest Service as a point source pollutant.

“In effect,” says Gerret Van Duyn, National Cotton Council Washington staff, “it terms material coming out of the nozzles on the back of a spray plane as equivalent to discharge from a pipe coming out of the back of a factory, and as such may require a permit for application.

“The problem with permits is that it can take time to get them, and when farmers need to spray they can't wait around for the permitting process. It can also be a costly process, and farmers don't want to face having to spend $2,000 to $3,000 on permits every time they need to spray a crop.”

In an attempt to clarify the matter, the Environmental Protection Agency offered guidance in 2003 which said the courts were wrong, Van Duyn says, “but there has been no follow-up since, and additional court cases continue to be filed.

“To make matters worse, the Ninth Circuit Court is still requiring agriculture and silviculture in mosquito control districts to get permits. We're trying to prevent this permitting process from coming over into agriculture, and are urging the EPA to intercede in these court cases.”

Ag-related issues

Other agriculture-related Capitol Hill issues on which the council is working, include:

  • Amendments to Endangered Species Act. “These are multiple, but they're not moving that much.” Among them are bills to clarify critical habitat designations, require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with private landowners, and to clarify that field data are better than default assumptions.

  • A saved seed bill, which provides that a grower purchasing transgenic seed would pay the technology fee, but if he wanted to save seed from his crop he would pay a fee to a fund set up by USDA.

    “This has problems,” Van Duyn says, “because it establishes a government entity in an area where government should not be involved in a market-based system. There's really no purpose in having this. It also removes lot of the incentive for companies to develop these technologies by siphoning off funds that promote their research and development.”

  • Prior informed consent (PIC) and persistent organic pollutants (POP) issues, related to an international treaty banning certain pesticides, including DDT.

    There is “a lot of concern,” he says, “about this legislation going through without us having a seat at the table when they make a lot of these critical decisions. We're trying to maintain our sovereignty. We have a system that works and we don't want the international community dictating which chemicals we can keep and which we can't.

  • “A bunch of chemical security bills in both the House and Senate. In the House committee, there are some 70 amendments dealing with chemical security and homeland security, along with a couple of chemical security bills in the Senate we're keeping our eye on. These would increase the cost of manufacturing pesticides — a cost that would likely be passed on to the grower.”

Also in the works, Van Duyn says, are a number of appropriations riders and regulatory issues, including a proposed Section 18 change that would make it easier for growers to show established loss, as well as a multi-year Section 18 provision that would reduce paperwork for growers who have similar problem from one year to the next.

He says the council's Washington staff is also working with a couple of international biotech acceptance programs, and is cooperating with soybean, corn, and other groups on a global-based marketing initiative, doing research on foreign countries' interest in and knowledge of biotech, with a final report expected this month.

“We're participating in a couple of coalitions discussing a World Trade Organization case involving the European Union's traceability and labeling program, a very trade-restrictive program that requires labeling and documentation of any biotech food product going into the EU.”

Van Duyn notes that Steve Johnson has recently been appointed deputy administrator of the EPA, a recess appointment by President Bush. “Several other appointments are being held up by various legislators.”

Other issues involve spray drift, and various cotton technology research programs the council is supporting.

Pointing out that the council partners with industry on many issues of concern, he says such support through the Cotton Foundation “helps us to be involved in these issues affecting agriculture.

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com