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Spud industry wary of new EPA fumigation rules

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Potato growers fear new EPA requirements for fumigation may make chemigation of nematicides too difficult to continue. The new rules take effect this fall.

New federal regulations could be onerous for potato farmers who use their center pivots to fumigate fields, warns a national industry leader.

On Dec. 1, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency implemented requirements that will see the first widespread use this fall imposing buffer zones for spraying fumigants containing metam sodium or metam potassium.

To maintain licenses to spray the products, chemical applicators must pass a test about the new regulations — the second phase of new standards. Phase I, implemented in 2010, required farms to adhere to good agricultural practices for fumigation and have fumigant management plans.

John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of National Potato Council, said his organization worked with EPA on rule development and will gather information from its growers to inform the agency about the affects of the changes.

“The greatest impacts of this are going to be on the chemigation use, which is the most common use in the Pacific Northwest,” Keeling said. “I think in total, they really ignored the long safety record of the use of these products. In general, I think the buffers they put in place were more restrictive than they probably should have been.”

Chemical applicators may take an exam through their state agricultural departments to obtain a permanent endorsement on their spraying licenses to fumigate with metam products, or they can obtain a three-year endorsement by taking online training offered through product manufacturers. The online tests, available at www.fumiganttraining.com, take five hours to complete.

Scott Larkin, a consultant for J.R. Simplot and the metam product manufacturer Taminco, said many applicators have waited until the last moment to get the certification.

The new buffer zones, in which entry is restricted for an extended period by anyone not involved in chemical application, will vary in size based on field size and application rate. Due to the potential for chemical run-off, chemigation buffers will be at least 10 times greater than buffers where fumigants are shanked into the soil, Larkin said. Growers will be required to monitor buffer borders under certain circumstances. Written permission to use the property of others within buffer zones is also now required, and zones must be unoccupied during the application and the subsequent 48 hours.

Larkin predicts the rules will result in a shift from chemigation — generally regarded as a preferred and cheaper method — toward shanking.

“A grower who thinks chemigation is optional, he may skip (fumigation) altogether because the regulations are a bit onerous,” Larkin said.

Indeed, Aberdeen, Idaho, grower Conan Feld anticipates he’ll simply fumigate fewer acres and take a yield hit. His neighbor, Ritchey Toevs, tends to plant potato varieties that are resistant to root lesion nematode, which spreads verticillium wild in spuds, on fields with heavy concentrations of the pest. He predicts the regulations will result in a minor shift away from susceptible varieties such as Russet Burbank toward resistant spuds such as Bannock Russet and Clearwater Russet.

American Falls, Idaho, grower Klaren Koompin plans to use other products with fewer regulations in-season to control nematodes.

The industry has requested an extension for a public comment period, now scheduled to end in mid-November, on new labels for chemicals including metam products, methyl bromide and Telone II. The labels under review are due to be rewritten in 2018.


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