“Maryland statehouse observers will be surprised if new bills, seeking to ban the use or sale of atrazine — the inveterate crop-protection chemical — do not appear in the 2012 legislative hopper in Annapolis. If they do, they will be a product of agricultural ignorance and environmental nonsense.”
The American Farm editorial is below.
Atrazine braces for another round
Maryland statehouse observers will be surprised if new bills, seeking to ban the use or sale of atrazine — the inveterate crop-protection chemical — do not appear in the 2012 legislative hopper in Annapolis.
If they do, they will be a product of agricultural ignorance and environmental nonsense.
And we are reminded of Mark Twain’s wisdom and insight: “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe when the legislature is in session.”
Scientists generally agree that although it has been more than 50 years since the herbicide was first introduced, the continuing importance of atrazine, along with simazine and propazine, to U.S. agriculture and global food supplies cannot be overstated.
In addition to managing weeds, atrazine and its sister triazines are critical to support conservation tillage practices that improve soil conservation in row crop production.
According to a new economic study by Paul D. Mitchell, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the herbicide atrazine benefits U.S. corn, sorghum and sugar cane farmers by up to $3.3 billion annually, thanks to increased yield, decreased cost and reduced soil erosion.
The study’s key findings include:
• Atrazine and the other chloro-s-triazines (simazine and propazine) produce $3 billion to $3.3 billion in value annually; and
• Atrazine and its sister triazines provide substantial weed control and encourage conservation tillage and no-till farming, which reduce soil erosion and improve water quality.
“There is no good substitute for atrazine. It’s an off-patent, affordable and well understood product,” said Mitchell. “Atrazine significantly increases yields and is a vital tool for controlling weeds in corn, sorghum and sugar cane.”
From his perch as the just-retired Extension weed control specialist at the University of Maryland, Dr. Ron Ritter continues to warn against the possible loss of “a very valuable, environmentally sound and inexpensive product.”
Citing the basic flaws of any effort to ban atrazine, Ritter noted that EPA re-registered atrazine in 2006 after 6,000 studies were conducted to determine its safety.
“Since then,” he continued, “over 100 new studies were conducted on its potential human health effects. I’d be curious to know how many of those studies were reviewed by the sponsors of the bills.”
Atrazine is part of a family of herbicides known as the triazines.
Noted Ritter: “This group of herbicides inhibit plant growth by inhibiting photosynthesis. This process is unique to plants, not people. Seven national and international regulatory agencies have agreed that atrazine ‘does not cause cancer, give frogs intersex organs, or create birth defects.’”
And a ban would be costly, Patterson said.
“An economist at the University of Chicago was asked to see what a ban on atrazine for corn in the state of Illinois would do. I used his numbers and extrapolated them to Maryland conditions. If we banned atrazine, you’re looking at a loss of somewhere between $26 to $58 per acre which translates to $12 million to $29 million for Maryland farmers.”
Ritter is urging Maryland farmers to “get involved, be proactive, keep informed, and communicate with your representatives in Annapolis.”
That’s very sound advice.
And if any atrazine bills pop up, we’ll sound an alert.