In Case You Missed It: With CalEPA’s Pesticide Plan, Aspirations Collide With Budget Constraints and Government Inertia

Brad Hooker
February 1, 2023

CalEPA’s Department of Pesticide Regulation has unveiled new goals for eliminating or significantly reducing the use of controversial pesticides by 2050. Agricultural groups have been closely watching the years-long process unfold and remain skeptical.

“We got to a place that we can work with,” California Citrus Mutual CEO and President Casey Creamer told Agri-Pulse, in describing his contributions to the evolving policy roadmap. “But the reality is there’s not going to be this huge pot of money that’s going to be thrown in this direction.”

Creamer argued that California has long been on a path to banning high-risk pesticides and while the roadmap has not changed that, it has offered an opportunity to draw attention to existing issues in regulating pesticides.

“The state has a major role to play, for one, in prioritizing prevention,” he said. “This document has acknowledged that they haven’t done it to the level that’s needed.”

“To us, the goal is to have as many sustainable systems and products available to growers as possible,” said Renee Pinel, President and CEO of the Western Plant Health Association.

Without addressing the “logjam” in DPR’s registration process for new products, she argued, the state will not be successful in its goals. She called for first registering the products with traditional insecticides and herbicides that are already in the queue, with the expectation that manufacturers are developing more sustainable alternatives to eventually serve as replacements.

“You can’t go from zero to 100 in five years. This is a goal for 2050,” she said. “If [DPR is] going to wait around until they have perfect products, they are leaving farmers with either old tools or no tools.”

She hopes to see the department to make decisions in scientifically sound ways, outside of political interests.

“If you don’t have science leading the way, you will end up having the tail wag the dog,” she said.

Pinel also pressed for fully funding CDFA for pest prevention and to recognize the state cannot keep out even 80% of the pests and needs the tools to treat them once they are in California. Most pests and diseases enter the state through urban and tourism avenues and California’s increasingly mild climate is making it difficult to keep them out, she explained.

California Farm Bureau Administrator Jim Houston was apprehensive the roadmap would alter the Newsom administration’s policy trajectory. … “This is a solution in search of a problem that’s going to raise the price of food,” said Houston. “This is not how government should work.”

The mood at a press conference last week in UC Davis, however, was cheerfully optimistic.

When asked about funding the roadmap’s ambitious goals, Secretary Garcia described CDFA’s climate-smart agriculture programs as playing a critical role and said the next step for the roadmap is to identify the highest priority goals to begin implementing in the next five years.

“Of course, it is an economic downturn. Yes, we’re looking at a recession,” said Garcia. “But we also really need to prioritize this. We’ll be doing that in various ways—TBD on how that’s going to play out.”

She noted the agency’s draft concept for overhauling the mill assessment will have “cross references” to the strategies laid out in the roadmap. The urgency for environmental justice for farmworkers and others, she added, will continue to drive the state’s transition to safer pesticide practices. But the administration is also seeking to “ensure that we are building a sustainable agricultural future, that we are baking in the longevity of agricultural production.”

DPR Director Julie Henderson added that despite the challenging budget year, the roadmap details a longer-term plan and the focus right now is on keeping that momentum moving forward.

“This isn’t a goal that we can achieve tomorrow,” said Henderson. “It’s really looking at what resources do we have today that we can use to get this launched and off the ground.”

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