EPA Weighs Insecticide Use

States Push for Use of Transform in Cotton

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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The EPA is weighing a number of state requests for emergency use of Transform, which was pulled off the market in 2015 after a court ruling questioning its safety for pollinators. (Logo courtesy of EPA)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- The EPA is weighing a request for a Section 18 emergency use exemption of sulfoxaflor, the active ingredient in Dow's Transform insecticide, for cotton growers in three Southern states.

The EPA posted the request on the Federal Register for public comments through May 20. After that period, the agency will weigh the comments and make a decision on whether the insecticide can be used on 168,750 acres of cotton in Tennessee, 320,000 of acres of cotton fields in Arkansas and 337,500 acres of cotton fields in Mississippi to control the tarnished plant bug.

At issue is Transform's unregistered status. The insecticide's registration was vacated in 2015 after a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals questioned its safety for pollinators. According to Dow AgroSciences, EPA now has the data in hand to evaluate sulfoxaflor's effect on pollinators, but the agency has not made a decision on whether to re-register the chemical yet.

For now, the cotton and sorghum industries have been left without a key insecticide. Cotton growers rely on Transform to control tarnished plant bug, the industry's most economically damaging pest. Sorghum growers use it to control the sugarcane aphid, an aggressive new pest of the grain crop.

Cotton growers may have hope for a favorable ruling. The EPA recently approved Section 18 emergency use exemptions for Transform on sorghum acres in 10 states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

The approvals came at a critical time for sorghum growers. The sugarcane aphid overwintered farther north than ever before, which could give the pest a head start on the 2016 sorghum season. "Sorghum farmers in these states are now better equipped to control the sugarcane aphid and have a better opportunity to mitigate yield and revenues loss," Tim Lust, CEO of the National Sorghum Producers, said in a press release.

To address pollinator concerns, the EPA added a provision to the emergency use labels for Transform in sorghum: Growers may not spray their crops from three days prior to bloom through seed set.

In the meantime, cotton growers will struggle to control the tarnished plant bug without use of Transform, said University of Arkansas Extension entomologist Gus Lorenz. Since Midsouth growers first started using the product in 2012, "Transform has reduced overall tarnished plant bug applications and provided significant yield increases and returns in gross revenues," Lorenz noted in a university news release. "It is estimated that control cost would increase $18 to $25 in the absence of Transform."

While other insecticides are available to control the tarnished plant bug, they tend to be quite toxic to the beneficial insect populations that growers rely on to keep other cotton pests in check, Lorenz said.

"Transform is considered a foundational product in Arkansas and the Midsouth cotton IPM programs in cotton due to its safety on beneficial insects," he wrote.

Lorenz believes alternative insecticides may be more of a danger to pollinators than Transform. "Since 2013, Transform has been used on more than 3 million acres across the Midsouth region with zero reported incidents of adverse effects on bees or other pollinators," he wrote.

Although the EPA's approvals for Transform's use in sorghum bode well for the cotton growers' petition, the agency's lag time has prompted concerns. Three U.S. senators -- James Inhofe, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker -- recently wrote to the EPA to ask for a faster review process.

The EPA took 129 days to respond to Texas' initial request for emergency use of Transform in sorghum, far beyond the traditional 50-day timeline promised by the agency, the senators noted. Mississippi's emergency use request for cotton is already entering its third month of review.

"Cotton growers in the Midsouth are getting dangerously close to when applications must be made to treat for the tarnished plant bug (Lygus lineolaris)," the senators wrote. "Without Transform in their toolbox, growers of these crops are destined for significant crop losses that are otherwise avoidable."

EPA is accepting comments on the cotton growers' request for emergency use of Transform here: http://1.usa.gov/….

Lorenz's news release on the need for Transform in cotton can be found here: http://bit.ly/….

The senators' letter to the EPA can be read here: http://1.usa.gov/….

Finally, the National Sorghum Producer's press release on the EPA approvals for emergency use of Transform in 10 states can be found here: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

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Emily Unglesbee