Stand by Your Seed Treatment
click to tweet
That’s why the use of seed treatments is so widespread. It’s estimated that 90% of the corn seed planted in the U.S. is treated.
Every ingredient that goes into a treated seed, including custom treatments, must be tested and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But recently, the safety of treated seed has been challenged. Questions about potential risks to birds and other pollinators — particularly from seeds treated with neonicotinoids — have resulted in attempts to limit or ban their use. Practicing excellent stewardship and making our voices heard can help preserve agriculture’s access to these important tools.
Update on Regulations
EPA’s exemption on treated seeds says, ‘No, it’s still a seed,’ — much the same way that a pressure-treated two-by-four or a boat treated with antifouling paint can move from state to state without being regulated. It’s a two-by-four. It’s a boat. It’s a seed — just because it’s treated doesn’t mean that it’s anything different.
At the federal level, EPA recently assessed the risks and benefits of neonics as seed treatments. In a preliminary interim decision, the agency recognized the benefits of treated seeds in a range of crops, says Jane DeMarchi, vice president of government and regulatory affairs for the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). “It also recognized that the risk to the environment from treated seed was very low.”
Meanwhile, several organizations challenged EPA, in court and through a formal petition, asking for a change in the way treated seed is regulated. “These groups would like EPA to not only regulate the pesticides, but also the seed once it’s treated with the pesticide,” she says. “We feel like that type of regulation would be duplicative, because when pesticides are approved, they are approved for use as a seed treatment.”
The group did not win its court case, but EPA has yet to respond to that petition — a concern for retailers and growers. Right now, a retailer can create a recipe to address a grower's specific needs and apply it to seed.
“Since all of those ingredients are approved by EPA, the recipe does not have to go through this long regulatory process itself,” DeMarchi says. “But if there’s a change in the way treated seed is regulated, it's possible those recipes, and even the process of planting the seed, would also be regulated. This could mean farmers would need a special applicator permit, because you’d be saying that each individual seed is a pesticide.”
Dennis Kelly, head of state affairs at Syngenta, adds that currently, “EPA’s exemption on treated seeds says, ‘No, it’s still a seed,’ — much the same way that a pressure-treated two-by-four or a boat treated with antifouling paint can move from state to state without being regulated. It’s a two-by-four. It’s a boat. It’s a seed — just because it’s treated doesn’t mean that it’s anything different.”
Legislation at the State Level
It’s important that EPA publishes its final decision soon, DeMarchi says. “EPA has the expertise to make these kinds of decisions. If there’s a delay, state legislatures might just make their own decisions.” Some states have already introduced bills to regulate treated seeds.
Chuck Spencer, executive director of government relations at GROWMARK Inc., knows his customers rely on seed treatments.
“We oppose any initiative, state or federal, that would circumvent a science-based review process of crop protectants,” he says. “We believe very strongly in this science-based approach. The process at the EPA level is necessary: one in which nongovernmental organizations, as well as the industry itself, all work together to achieve the most favorable outcome, taking into consideration the control of pests, the health and safety of the humans who are both handling it and ultimately consuming the crops, and also the environment in which growers use the product.”
Keeping Treated Seed Available for Growers
To help make sure agriculture will continue to have access to seed treatments, growers and applicators should use best management practices — following directions on treated seed container labeling for handling, storage, planting and disposal practices and using advanced seed flow lubricants that minimize dust.
Growing Matters’ BeSure! campaign, an industrywide collaboration between crop protection providers, trade associations and ag retailers, offers guidance on those practices — such as observing wind speed and direction to avoid dust drift from treated seeds to sensitive areas during planting.
Together with ASTA, Syngenta is also working on education around stewardship of treated seed, DeMarchi says. “Stewardship education is really important because it's crucial that everybody does their part to protect pollinators.”
Kelly agrees. “Syngenta has done a lot of education with farm groups, ag commodity groups and other folks who work at the state level,” he says. “We also have a very active state affairs team that works with CropLife America and the other major registrants of insecticides and crop protection.”
Of course, Syngenta is continuing to focus on making the best products it can, as well as registering its seed treatments in all the states they’re used in, so these important tools remain available to growers and retailers nationwide.
*“Facts About Seed Treatments,” American Seed Trade Association, www.georgiacrop.com/fullpanel/uploads/files/asta-seed-treatment-overview.pdf