Pesticide use in peanuts is a common occurrence due to the fact that peanuts are host to a wide array of pest problems during the growing season. The number of pest problems, including weeds, diseases, insects and nematodes, exceeds that seen in many other crops.
The rather susceptible nature of the peanut plant, as well as the high value of the crop, makes pest control in peanuts a valuable component of the overall production program.
However, continued criticism of pesticide use, increasing regulations, and the need to reduce production costs, have placed pesticide use in peanuts under renewed scrutiny.
Pesticide costs in peanuts make up a significant share of the total production cost. Insects cause serious problems in peanuts, but the cost of managing them is usually less than the cost of managing diseases and weeds.
Nonetheless, surveys in North Carolina found that peanut growers still spend almost 10 percent of the overall production budget on insect management. Much of this cost is found in the preventive use of insecticides at planting for thrips control and just prior to or at pegging for control of the southern corn rootworm.
While the preventive use of insecticides does not exactly fit some individual's concept of IPM, such use patterns have served growers well for many years and provide them with early season flexibility and confidence.
The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) was signed into law in 1996 and has made steady progress in meeting its mandate. While action was slow in the beginning, more recent activity has been closer to the original schedule of reviewing the pesticides for cumulative risk. The heart and soul of the FQPA is the concept that all pesticides with similar modes of action (i.e. the organophosphates such as Lorsban or Mocap) must be considered together as a group when looking at exposure.
In addition, the FQPA places an even higher level on the safety of children with a 100 fold safety factor included in situations where children are exposed to residues.
Many heard a collective sigh of relief when they saw that the use of chorpyrifos for rootworms on peanuts remained intact.
Chlorpyrifos, including Lorsban, went through the initial round of the assessment last year and the affect on its use on peanuts was basically unchanged. Most of the changes focused on household, yard, and garden uses where exposure might be the greatest.
Three points need to be considered relevant to this first step in the FQPA.
First, is that feedback in the form of letters to the EPA did have a significant impact in this decision making process. The EPA has made a commitment to seeking input in its decision making process. While one could debate whether the decision making process is as scientifically based as many would like to see, it is obvious that letters from the end users of these pesticides had and will continue to have an impact on the process.
The second point is that there are still many other products in the organophosphate (OPs) arena such as acephate, including Orthene, that are under review and decisions will be reached on these products soon.
We cannot state that a similar ruling on the other OPs will follow. They may be ruled upon differently than was chlorpyrifos.
There are no guarantees in this process and that is why it is important that you stay current with the implementation of this law. Make your voice heard if you feel the loss of a particular pesticide use will create a hardship on your farming operation.
If you have Internet access, you can stay current by accessing the EPA Website at www.epa.gov/pesticides/.
The final issue is for you not to feel complacent or comfortable once a pesticide has undergone its initial review. Because that's all it is, an initial review of that single compound and all of its uses.
By law, FQPA must go back and lump together all of the pesticides with similar modes of actions (i.e., the organophosphates) and look at the cumulative exposure of all the remaining uses.
While there is no set timetable on this process, it will happen and it will undoubtedly change the status of these compounds a second time. In other words, it's far from over.
So what does all this mean for peanut production and pest management in 2001?
It doesn't appear that at this time its going to have much of an impact this year. That shouldn't raise any false hopes for next year. It should alert us to the fact, however, that the current list of products may or may not be available in the near future.
This should encourage us to use the current products with the best stewardship to create the best possible scenario for a strong argument should we find ourselves in a position that we need to strongly defend them.
We should also be in a position of looking at other strategies and approaches to manage these pests in other ways.
While recent EPA rulings should have phased out specific pesticides over several years, in some cases the timetable was fairly short. Be aware of any and all options and test them to determine their fit in your operation.
Being prepared and being flexible are part of farming today and as the FQPA continues to affect more pesticides, we will be called upon to make more changes in the future.