Last week, the Oregon Department of Agriculture released its final rule on chlorpyrifos, phasing out most uses by December 2023.

In its memo, ODA notes two specialty crop block grants awarded to explore alternatives to chlorpyrifos for Oregon’s specialty crops. This likely amounts to just over $300,000 in dedicated funds. In contrast, similar efforts in neighboring states to phase out chlorpyrifos have included substantial funding toward the identification of alternatives. In California, research investments totaled over $5 million.

Many Oregon specialty crops will be significantly impacted by ODA’s rule. EPA’s economic analysis estimates that the Oregon strawberry industry could suffer losses of up to $7,800 per acre without the use of this product. Unfortunately, ODA’s fiscal impact statement was mostly hypothetical, simplifying economic impacts to the costs of replacement products. ODA’s hypothetical example also uses very small numbers, landing on a total additional cost of $50 more for a 100-acre farm to use an alternative product that might cost $.50 more per acre.

These numbers are far from realistic. And unfortunately, we know that the economic impacts of losing access to a critical pesticide are much more complex, and often include significant crop losses, which must also be accounted for. Let’s be real.

I’ve often heard the argument from advocacy groups that prioritizing economics puts money over health. Rather, economic sustainability is the essential third leg of a three-legged stool. While minimizing risks to both human and environmental health is important, the stool collapses without attention to the third leg of economic sustainability. In the case of chlorpyrifos in Oregon, that third leg seems to have been largely ignored.

Many Oregon specialty crop industries over the last several years have formally identified “alternatives to chlorpyrifos” as top priority pest management needs. Yet, many of these industries continue to lack effective alternatives. Applying regulations on the use of certain pesticides in the absence of prioritizing (and funding) efforts to identify alternatives does not sustainably solve the problem.

Research and development, education and outreach, and regulatory efforts should be acting in concert. And research and extension must be able to effectively anticipate regulatory issues such as this one, so that our growers and other land managers are not left without effective tools. True progress will require the identification of new, safe, effective and affordable tools for a number of crop/pest combinations. This was no less the case for chlorpyrifos several years ago as it is now. This requires serious work that will likely come with a serious price tag, and regulations alone will not get us there.

Katie Murray is executive director of Oregonians for Food & Shelter, a nonprofit coalition to promote the efficient production of quality food and fiber while protecting human health, personal property and the environment, through the integrated, responsible use of pest management products, soil nutrients and biotechnology.

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