An EPA safety advisory panel continues the agency's re-review in September of the 50-year old herbicide, Atrazine. Corn growers fear EPA action could undermine record yields and global grain supplies. Kansas Corn Growers director and Triazine Network chair Jere White says some farmers might be able to withstand an EPA reduction in Atrazine application rates. But others might already be applying at or near the maximum allowable rate.
"As those rates decline the efficacy of the product for the weeds that farmers need to control also goes down, so different weeds came off the label," White said. "Certainly for a number of farmers any rate reduction would have the same impact of a cancellation or ban if you will."
And banning Atrazine or using other, less effective herbicides, would mean sacrificing today's record yields, now at 165 bushels an acre.
"In the midst of that record corn yield is a growing number of acres of corn that was planted using conservation tillage, either no-till or minimum till, things like that," White said. "One of the top herbicides used in conservation tillage today and actually its use is increasing, is atrazine."
White says without Atrazine, growers are less likely to use conservation tillage, which is partly responsible for the record yields.
According to White none of this is good for global grain supplies, now stretched thin due to heat and drought.
"When it comes to reduced yield, if you combine that with other global issues like reduced production of feed wheat, it creates an additive effect that could have a substantial market impact," White said.
The U.S. and others, for now, are expected to make up grain shortfalls from former Soviet Union countries that are experiencing drought and decreased production. Without Atrazine, future shortfalls may be a lot tougher to close. White expects an EPA decision on Atrazine late next year.